Brigid Laffan on Brexit

Written by Jacqueline Gordon on . Posted in Current opinions, Opinions

Professor Brigid Laffan is Director of the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies and Director of the Global Governance Programme at the EUI.

Brigid Laffan, Director of the RSCAS

Brigid Laffan, Director of the RSCAS

‘It is a deeply historical moment, with unknown and unknowable outcomes,’ explains Professor Brigid Laffan, Director of the European University Institute’s Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, referring to the UK’s historic decision to withdraw its membership from the European Union.

Indeed, the first repercussions of ‘Brexit’ are already being felt, with tumbling markets and the resignation of David Cameron as England’s Prime Minister. ‘The UK now shows itself a divided country’, she says. ‘It is divided internally, with Northern Ireland, Scotland and London having voted to remain; it is divided across educational and generational lines, it is divided between the industrial and financial sectors.’

According to Laffan, the ‘Leave’ decision brings ‘contingency, uncertainty and turbulence’ into the global equation, unsettling economies and politics around the world.

‘The challenges are immense,’ she says, ‘and what is at stake is the future of democratic politics in Europe.’ Continuing, she explains ‘what I find worrying is that this is the first country to make an historical decision based on the issue of immigration. The ‘Leave’ supporters won not only the referendum, but also the campaign.’ While Laffan doesn’t expect other countries to start queuing for exit, she does expect that Brexit will fuel anti-EU forces and the politics of populism across Europe: ‘an easy form of anti-politics.’

Professor Laffan charges the centre parties to reassert themselves. ‘They must engage with electorates, and create narratives about what it means to live in an interdependent world (…) We cannot return to a situation of closure’ she says, ‘of strong national borders and isolation. That would be an impoverished Europe.’

With regard to the EU itself, Laffan notes that the UK’s pragmatic culture and tradition of diplomacy will be missed. A more worrisome consequence of the UK’s exit will be the resulting disequilibrium among the remaining countries. With France a relatively weak power, she explains, the UK was an effective counter-balance to Germany’s strength. ‘Having Germany as a single dominant power is unhealthy for the Union. It is the last thing that Germany wanted.’

Interestingly, Laffan does not see the road to a stronger Europe through policies or strategies at the EU level. ‘More Europe is not the answer,’ she says. Rather, she hopes to see national governments reaffirm their commitment to the EU among their populaces. ‘Governments and politicians need to support EU institutions and make it clear to their voters that the EU is worth defending. The EU is worth defending–but nobody does.’

‘We are living in uncertain times,’ she says, ‘and with everything I know about politics, no good can come of this.’


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