On December 13th, 2007, the European Union signed its death warrant. And now, a decade later, Britain will be its just executioner.
The European Union has far overstepped its original intentions. Arising from the ashes of two world wars that devastated the continent, the Union began as a loose group of states which dared to strive towards peace. Their intentions were pure and simple: stronger diplomatic and economic ties within the continent would put a stop to the past centuries of near-constant warfare. The goal was noble, and it worked. Europe emerged from the carnage as an economic powerhouse.
The Union itself evolved throughout the later 20th century, but it has now reached a critical point. The Lisbon Treaty, signed in 2007, and the older Maastricht Treaty it replaced greatly increased the powers of a central European government. The people of Europe now have two options: either they can let this expansion of central power continue, resulting in a virtual nation-state encompassing all of Europe, or they can ditch Lisbon in the name of national sovereignty.
The Lisbon Treaty is a political disaster. It threatens the national sovereignty of member states and puts the European Union, which is economically advantageous to all, in jeopardy. Opposition to the overreaching Lisbon treaty has sparked the rise of far-right groups like the UK Independence Party, Front National of France, and the Freedom Party of Austria. These groups, utilizing the anti-Lisbon sentiment in their respective countries, have grasped power. Their rise has given political legitimacy to racist anti-Muslim policies. And instead of dismantling the Lisbon Treaty, they seek to destroy the Union entirely, demolishing the economic framework that benefits all members. Instead of trying to weather this new wave of nationalism, the European Union must save itself. The Union must be wholly reformed.
As constituted by the Lisbon Treaty, the European Union looks a lot like a national government. It has a Parliament and Council acting as its dual legislative branches. And it has a European Commission to run its executive functions. Though this simplified the governance of the Union, it began a slippery slope towards a centralized European state forced upon its diverse peoples. Voters want representation, and they don’t feel represented when their European Parliament consists of 751 MEPs, the majority of whom come from vastly different cultures than their own. Centuries-old nations cannot be deconstructed without friction. Moreover, the European Parliament is itself a weak institution, with the unelected European Commission having the power to introduce legislation. In effect, the EU’s governance has a democratic deficit. That voter opposition to unity will doom the Union in its current form.
Instead, the European Union should model itself after the United Nations. Each state would be represented by a delegation selected by their own government. Sovereignty is respected, human rights issues are addressed, and European trade deals are brokered. Instead of embarking on the impossible goal of forming a single European superstate, the new union would focus on European friendship and cooperation. It would ensure nations are respected, continue the economic stability Europe has enjoyed, and take the wind out of the sails of right wing parties.
So what will it be? Will the European Union continue to be stubborn and risk seeing its member states bow out? Or will it take a step back and do what’s best for the European people?