The Road to Brexit: How Merkel Thwarted Cameron’s Smart Gamble
There were many signposts on the road to Brexit. As early as 2001, the Swiss rejected access to the EU by an overwhelming 72.5%. Four years later, in 2005, both the French and the Dutch rejected a European constitutional treaty project in separate referendums. Polls indicated that similar referendums would have turned the same way in other places.
In recent years, anti-EU defiance increased. Radical anti-EU parties and more moderate Eurosceptic parties won higher and higher returns in most countries, either in national or European ballots. In some countries -- Hungary, Poland, Greece -- they simply won the election and took over the cabinet. In others -- Austria -- they almost won.
Brexit is thus not so much a revolution in European affairs as the culmination of a long and steady process.
United Europe had been popular among Europeans, and every European nation was willing to join it -- as long as it delivered prosperity, democracy, stability. Global security.
This was true of the six founding nations in the 1950s and 1960s, of Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia and the former Mediterranean dictatorships in the 1970s, and of the former Communist countries of Eastern Europe in the 1990s.
Things changed by the mid-1990s, however, when what had been known hitherto as the European Community was changed into the much tighter European Union. It soon became apparent, whatever the political class would say, that the more centralized the Union became, the less it could actually deliver.
Instead of the ever-increasing prosperity they had taken for granted for a half-century, many Europeans had to face zero growth, bankruptcy, and long-term austerity programs. Instead of more democracy -- free expression, the rule of elected and responsible governments -- they were getting more political correctness and more bureaucracy.
Instead of more global security, a new pervading sense of powerlessness in front of Russian imperialism and jihadist terror. Instead of more stability, more social disruption -- especially in such essential areas as family and national identity.
The EU leadership was aware that things had gone sour and that disaffection was accumulating, but it was not mentally equipped to draw the proper consequences and find solutions.
David Cameron, the conservative Eurosceptic PM of Britain, was an exception in this regard: he had a plan, and a rather brilliant one at that.
He was convinced he could have it both ways by organizing a British referendum on Europe -- thus allowing the anti-EU tide to rise very high – but to win it, even by a thin edge. He would then have appeared as the savior of Europe, and be in a position to ask for a global reshaping and loosening of the European treaties.