As Britain decides its future relationship with the European Union, it is important to understand the implications for other European countries and people as well as where it all began.
It may surprise and perhaps delight many in Estonia to discover that the foremost founder of the 20th century concept of European Unionism was intellectually conceived by a man who was half-Japanese. Richard Nikolaus Eijiro, also titled as the Count of Coudenhove-Kalerg, was half Japanese and, of course, Estonia and Japan have for many years held a fraternal bond in respect of culture, sport, art and, most importantly, interpersonal interaction. Unlike Latvia and Finland, Japan has never been nor shall ever be a member of the European Union and yet, most Estonians, like most Japanese, feel a mutual and fraternal bond between one another. This is a clear example of how culture, heritage and fraternal relations are more compelling and important than political considerations.
These facts become even more salient when one examines the topic of the day: the so-called Brexit, the United Kingdom’s proposed withdrawal from the European Union. From the year 1973, the United Kingdom has been a member of the EU. Like most relationships, there have been ups and downs. On the one hand, being a part of a European community has allowed Britain to manage its gradual decline as a geo-political power in a manner that is graceful and, in doing so, gain access to trading, cultural and social/migratory opportunities that would otherwise not be afforded. On the other hand, such a relationship has emphasised and, indeed, expedited its demise as a country that could command power and influence over a wider world, including and especially parts of the world it once ruled as an imperial power. It is something of a Freudian divorce with all the overtones of a party political ideological orgy.
But where are we today? Not in a good place. Britain, like Russia, is intrinsically not a European country. Britain and Russia are countries that bookend the European plain in such a way so as to be manifestly involved yet transcendentally apart. This is a fact of culture and political considerations no matter how violent cannot change one’s culture. The survival of Estonian culture is one such example of this.
“Britain, like Russia, is intrinsically not a European country.”
As things stand now, I shall declare my own position. I am opposed to the European Union as presently comprised, not just for Britain, but for all member states. I find it to be a boated, corrupt, bellicose, interventionist, economically deterministic and un-democratic bloc that does not work in the interest of the men and women it proclaims to represent. But do I favour a return to the small, insignificant, warring states of the inter-war period? Of course not. I am an internationalist in the most linguistically literal sense of the phrase. I believe all nations should cooperate to decrease trade barriers, ethnic and religious tensions, the plague of nationalism and strive to create a global community based on pragmatic understanding rather than suspicion and ideologically driven competition.
In terms of Europe, how can this be done? Not through a bloated bureaucracy but through a simple treaty or perhaps set of treaties which enshrine the following:
- Freedom of movement
2. Freedom of trade
3. Basic standards of product quality control
4. Basic standards of living/working conditions.
This could be easily implemented via a treaty rather than via an overblown organisation which increasingly seems more concerned with re-making the world in its theoretical image than improving the lives of the people under its rule.
“Cooperation could be easily implemented via a treaty rather than via an overblown organisation which increasingly seems more concerned with re-making the world in its theoretical image than improving the lives of the people under its rule.”
This is what the Brexit debate should have been about, but alas, this hasn’t come to pass. Instead, politicians of left and right have proved to maxim of Lord Acton that “all power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. A debate that should have been about sovereignty, identity in a post imperial world, proper economics, the nature of post-modern democracy and relations with friendly peoples, has instead been turned into the most vulgar mudslinging spectacle Britain has witnessed in a generation.
The “remain” and “exit” campaigns must share blame equally in this respect. Both have let down the people they seek and claim to represent. In an ideal situation, both sides would have agreed to the following: the prominent Brexit campaigners of all parties and none who are not currently members of parliament in the House of Commons should have been given seats in the House of Lords so that they could form a caretaker national/all parties government, should the people of Britain decide to vote for European withdrawal. Likewise, people should have offered and formed a cohesive manifesto for a Britain outside of the European Union. Simultaneously, the parties and individuals campaigning for Britain to remain in the European Union should have put forward a manifesto based on the advantages of remaining rather than sound bites based of frightening people about the supposed realities that might occur upon withdrawal. All sides much share an equal portion of the blame in this respect.
“A debate that should have been about sovereignty, identity in a post imperial world, proper economics, the nature of post-modern democracy and relations with friendly peoples, has instead been turned into the most vulgar mudslinging spectacle Britain has witnessed in a generation.”
But what for Estonia and Estonians? Estonia is a proudly independent country, its citizens are generally good people, beautiful people, intelligent people. But Estonia also has problems. Substitute the word Estonia for Britain and the statement remains factual. Estonians, like most Britons, are happy to be members of a collective unit that ideally is based on free trade among small nations, a corporation among generally like-minded people and a fraternity among those who seek to live, work, visit and retire in one another’s countries in a manner that is free from the pains of bureaucratic interference.
But how does the vote in Britain on 23 June impact on this? The short answer is, it does not. Even if Britain exits the European Union, Britain will still be part of the European Economic Area and it is this agreement which guarantees the right of citizens of counties who are mutual signatories to such an agreement the right to live, work or retire in all signatory nation states. Taking things a step further, Switzerland is not even a member of the European Economic Area, let alone the European Union, but an Estonian has every much right to live in Switzerland as he does in Finland, Britain or Germany.
In reality, British voters, like many others, are cautious voters. While I am in favour of a system that offers a pragmatic alternative to the European Union for all current member states, I am so ashamed of the vast majority on both sides of the Brexit campaign that I am perversely delighted to say that I believe British voters will decide to remain by a margin of approximately 53%.
“The position of Estonians in Britain and Britons in Estonia shall not change. Fear is combatted not with paranoia but with pragmatism, it is with this spirit that all the peoples of Europe ought to properly unite in the name of peace, prosperity and freedom against its governmental antithesis.”
I hope that in future years or maybe even decades, peoples from all European Union countries will realise there is a better way. I hope people will realise that one can have all the benefits of a customs union and a free movement area without the corrupt and un-democratic bureaucracy that currently exists in Brussels. But until then, have no fear. The position of Estonians in Britain and Britons in Estonia shall not change. Fear is combatted not with paranoia but with pragmatism, it is with this spirit that all the peoples of Europe ought to properly unite in the name of peace, prosperity and freedom against its governmental antithesis.
The opinions in this article are those of the author. Cover courtesy of Shutterstock. Read also: Brexit: hidden implications for Baltic security