Give Britain Time

COPENHAGEN – “Careful and calm deliberation unties every knot!” a fly-fishing English friend once told me. I was reminded of these words in the aftermath of the United Kingdom’s “Brexit referendum,” when many in the European Union (though not in Britain) called for a swift divorce. I was also reminded of June 1992, when a narrow majority of Danish voters rejected the Maastricht Treaty in a referendum – a close parallel to what happened in Britain last month.

What lessons can we take from that earlier event? For starters, hurrying the process is certain to lead to a result that serves the interests of neither the UK nor the EU. This is not the time for rash decisions or unproductive recrimination. Haste is waste, as the old proverb goes. Decision-makers in the EU and in the UK should let the full consequences of what has happened sink in; only then will it be appropriate to begin work on making the best of a very complicated situation.

The 1992 Danish ballot shook Europe at the time. Denmark was one of 12 states voting on the Maastricht Treaty, the aim of which was European economic and monetary integration, and the other 11 states were eager to move the process along, in order to prepare the EU for the new post-Cold War era.

The day after Danish voters rejected the treaty, the foreign ministers of all 12 countries met with European Commission President Jacques Delors to discuss how best to respond. All parties agreed that there could be no renegotiation of the treaty, because that would open a Pandora’s box of demands from all sides. Some parties wanted to start a process where the 11 states that voted “in” would create a “new EU.” Under this plan, Denmark would have effectively exited the EU.