The world is still dealing with the effects of the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union. After being a member of the E.U. and its predecessors for 43 years, 52 percent of the British public decided to leave in a referendum.
There are, of course, many reasons why the British people voted the way they did, and in many ways, Brexit likely was inevitable. R Street’s own Ian Adams called this a “first step toward Anglosphere”:
The basis for a formalized Anglosphere is grounded most concretely in the legacy of the military cooperation that developed during and after World War II. To this day, the intelligence agencies of Great Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand enjoy an unrivaled level of interconnectedness. The sharing of these secrets, information vital to the continued existence of the nations in question, bespeaks a level of shared comfort and commitment to being on the same side of most issues, most of the time.
But while the technical foundation of the relationship between these nations is founded in the first principle of each of their governments – defense of the homeland – one need not dig to a great depth to find the common principles of free-market democratic governance, made possible by a robust commitment to free speech, that are the shared legacy of a shared intellectual heritage.
Which, ironically, was one of the reasons the United Kingdom decided to leave the E.U. Britain has far more in common with its former colonies than it does with continental Europe. There is no need to look any further than the comparisons between the American Revolution and the French Revolution. The way Britain and continental Europe define “liberty” and “freedom” are very different.
The European Union is an obsolete customs union. It eliminates tariffs between its members, but it sets external tariffs for all of its members. It’s easy to see how this could be a nightmare.
Less-developed Eastern European countries would benefit more from higher tariffs than more developed Western European countries. The poorer Eastern European nations could use them both as a source of revenue and to subsidize their own industry. Meanwhile, the more developed nations want low tariffs in order to have access to cheap consumer goods.
Another area where there is a lot of tension is the Common Agricultural Policy. Trying to develop a common farming policy for 28 very different nations is difficult. There is the perception that it has largely been developed to benefit France at the expense of other members. The follies that underlie the CAP have been replicated in everything from labor law to migration.
Finally, it may be in the interest of the individual members that now comprise the European Union to develop ties independently outside of Europe. The Brexit vote will give the United Kingdom an opportunity to expand economic ties with the Commonwealth. Without the European Union, it’s easy to see the French developing closer economic ties with its former colonies. The same argument could be made for Spanish and Portugal with respect to Latin America. Instead, all of them are bound by a large and unwieldy customs union.
What is the better option for Europe that maintains a common market and promotes European unity, while maintaining the independence of European countries to develop ties with the rest of the world? Perhaps something along the lines of the European Free Trade Association. It would create a continental free-trade agreement, but would allow members to conclude their own free-trade agreements outside of Europe. The red tape and the bureaucracy of the European Union, which gives us such absurdities as banning the claim that water prevents dehydration, would be dissolved. Instead of a common market, national governments could regulate what is best for their citizens.
Europe can take a lesson from North America. The United States, Canada and Mexico have a free-trade agreement, but all three countries are free to develop economic ties with the rest of the world on their own. Contrary to the rantings of conspiracy theorists, all three nations have maintained their sovereignty. This hasn’t stopped them nations from cooperating on many other things.
The European Union is an obsolete model of bureaucracy in the digital era. Technology makes it as easy for someone in Paris to do business with someone in Dakar as it is with someone in Frankfurt. Europe has to decentralize or more countries will follow Britain’s example.
Guest blogger Kevin Boyd is a freelance writer based in Louisiana.