On June 23rd, the British voted in favour of leaving the European Union with the smallest possible majority, 51.9%. Paradoxically, the United Kingdom was also the country which had the most exceptions and opt-outs from EU legislations in the first place.
In a time when the European Union has suffered crisis after crisis and also been critizised for its lack of capability in handling the chain of events, it is perhaps in place to remember what the Union actually is.
The European Union is a complex structure. It consists of 28 countries, and is inhabited by people who speak around 90 different languages. It is a complex, multicultural entity stiving for unity. Geographically it unites a piece of land which is not geographically very large, in fact it is a little protrusion from the vast Asian continent. A small mass of land, inhabited by 500 million people who during the last 70 years have endured peace – almost. The Union was created with the expressed goal of preserving this multitude of cultures and languages while at the same time uniting around common goals. According to nationalist critique, this preservation of the multitude in every minority is exactly what has made us weak. They forget that when we strive to preserve multitude, we strive to preserve ourselves – we are small!
Apparently, a large number of opt-outs only makes the Union as a while more fragile, while not achieveing enough good-will in the countries recieving them. In light of this, there is reasont to reconsider the value of such exception schemes. After the last few years of crisis, Europeans long for better cooperations, but seem to disagree on the means to get there. If the Brexit was a yellow card for the Union, we have not yet been given the red. Let’s use this lesson to make a better union for those who remain. It’s time for a Union of One – not 27.
The Brexit makes us scrutinize ourselves and ask what kind of Union we actually want. Is it a swiss cheese of opt-outs and exceptions like the British had, or is i an union of different layers of involvement? Each of these solutions only makes the Union more comlex, more complicated and more a work of legislation and less of vision. Is it a good idea to add layers to the onion, or will it just make it harder to reach the core? Above all, we need to remember that a Union is a Union of an idea, just as much as of rules and laws. The latter just follow up to formalise a wordless agreement allready made. No country could ever be forced into a Union, and should not be kept in a Union where they do not wish to be.
I took the Union for granted. My first vote as I came of age was by chance one for the European Commission and my first national election came some year later, and it all seemed nothing strange for me at the time. But I did take it for granted, and I beat myself up for that today. The Brexit taught me one thing – I am not Swedish, not Scandinavian, not half Estonian, not British. But I am European. Stangely that notion would never have come to me if I had not felt it threatened. Perhaps it is true like James Baldwin said, that Home is not a place, but an irrevocable condition.