Yesterday’s letter by Theresa May to EU President Donald Tusk was a rare exercise in diplomacy, containing a message that is hard to swallow for the recipient, and even trickier for its public consequences in the media — the only real concern we can spot from the wording.
Let me be frank. After reading it, I can only say that the British took the right decision, from their point of view. Regardless of May’s nice words of hope for a prosperous and successful European Union, this step is perfectly consistent with the only criterion that has always inspired the Brits’ 70-year long attitude towards the European Integration process: their own convenience.
Going back to 1946, we can’t ignore that Churchill’s call for a “United States of Europe” was aimed at frustrating any other, less authoritative post-war leader to do (and, more to the point, mean) the same. Not surprisingly, the first and real autonomous steps for a tangible, tighter cooperation among western European countries were opposed by the British leadership as signs of the possible birth of a serious competitor to the Crown’s Commonwealth.
On the same path, both the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community (1951) and the start of the first European Community embryo with the 1957 Rome Treaty were received with stiffness and distrust across the English Channel.
And when the British finally decided to join the EC consortium in 1973 (after a first attempt in 1963, at the time frustrated by De Gaulle’s opposition) they did it only after posing strict conditions — i.e. major changes to the Common Agricultural Policies — a privilege that no other member country could take advantage of, neither before, nor after.
“We are part of it, but only as long as we like it, and other members will have to deal with it” are words that were never officially pronounced by British representatives. But good negotiation skills are measured by the way someone is able to turn things in such a way that words like these are not even necessary.
The most outspoken, and — for this reason — less blameable UK opponent to further sovereignty reduction was Margaret Thatcher, whom we all should thank for showing the real face of “British Europeanism” throughout the whole shining eighties. And inevitably, when a major consensus was reached for the Currency Union (1999–2002), the UK opted out because they were, once again, sure it was not convenient for them.
Now, I don’t want to bore you with all the high-brow quotes of the big thinkers and founders of the European Union dream. You won’t read any remarks from Altiero Spinelli, Georges Bonnet or Robert Schuman in this post.
But — Holy Lord — for what reason should we fall in despair when the most cynical of EU members decides to leave us to our destiny? At least it’s a destiny we’ll have to negotiate among ourselves, as stated by the Lisbon Treaty we all signed, with no special treatment for one particular country.
In the end, I think that we should only blame ourselves for Brexit. We made it possible by accepting in the EU a reluctant country proudly made of reluctant people. For the same reason, we should blame ourselves for not kicking out countries like Hungary, whose leadership is a daily insult to the principles of democracy that should be considered as requirements, not abstract values.
After all, this is just to say that those boring people imagining the future of Europe in the early forties while confined in some remote Mediterranean island were not obsessed with convenience and mistrust. And this is exactly what prevented, in these last 70 years, another major conflict in the old continent.