The Brexit Shock If We Don't Love Europe, We Will Lose It

The Brits have voted to leave the EU. It was a democratic decision and we have no choice but to come to terms with the loss. But it's lso time for a reckoning: If we don't become more passionate about the European Union, we will lose it.

The EU must become more democratic, transparent and less bureaucratic -- that much is obvious.

The EU must become more democratic, transparent and less bureaucratic -- that much is obvious.

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In the end, perhaps the rain proved to be the decisive factor. Whereas the highly emotional Brexiteers didn't shy away from the polling stations in even the most adverse of conditions, some EU supporters instead chose to stay home, in accordance with their passive campaign slogan: "Remain."

After all, while the vote promised to be close, it looked as though the Remain campaign would emerge victorious -- as though one didn't necessarily need to get wet to avoid Brexit. That, at least, would be a remarkable punch line for this bitter day in Europe: That the most British off all weather washed the country right out of the EU.

'A Victory of Emotion over the Facts'

As irrational as this explanation might sound, it could be true. "It is a victory of emotion over facts," Elmar Brok a prominent German conservative in European Parliament, said after the vote. That may be. But the future of what remains of the European Union is also dependent on how it addresses that realization.

From the very beginning, there was an emotional imbalance in this battle for Britain. The Brexiteers had a big story to tell -- one of a proud people that must finally recognize it was high time to haul back its sovereignty from a faceless, bureaucratic Brussels apparatus that was undemocratic and spent its time passing regulations in opaque rounds of wheeling and dealing.

What did the Remain campaign have at its disposal to counter these arguments? Prosaic facts. Britain would suffer economically. Only a unified Europe could compete globally. The message was not wrong, but it was cool and abstract by comparison.

Will the European Union be able to recover from this loss? EU opponents in other countries are already sensing a tailwind. Early on Friday, calls began growing in the Netherlands and France for their own referenda on future membership. They surely won't be the only such calls.

Brexit Referendum

Remain in the EU
Leave the EU

To thwart such intentions, many are calling for an example to be made of Britain: no more concessions and the end of special treatment. Everything should be done, they are saying, to ensure that nobody feels emboldened by the British example.

But punitive measures to deter others would not be productive. An EU straightjacket in which countries only stay in out of fear would also be untenable.

No, this isn't the time to be firing huffy vows of vengeance across the English Channel. The British are gone and that is a bitter realization. But the decision to leave the European Union was also a democratic one and must be respected. As of today, Britain is no longer important to the future of the EU.

European Unity Is the Only Guarantee for Lasting Peace

Europe's focus should now be squarely on the remaining EU member states and their citizens. They must now be convinced deep in their hearts that the EU is the best possible form of self-determination for them. But this conviction is only attainable if the EU becomes more democratic, more transparent and less bureaucratic -- that much is clear.

More importantly, a European spirit must be created that is stronger than any national narrative. In Europe, and in Germany, people have abandoned pathos when speaking about the EU. Stories of war from the EU's founding generation, it is often said, are no longer sufficient as the rationale for a united continent. Free trade isn't enough either, apparently. There is little love in an economic community. No one is willing to wait hours in the rain for it.

Still, if there is a single justification for the European Union's continued existence, then it is the original one: European unification, with ever deeper integration of these so diverse and yet closely related nations, is the only guarantee for lasting peace. We have become so accustomed to the prosperity born out of this stability that we are no longer capable of imagining that the outcome could actually be a lot different. By forgetting the war, we have in no way exorcised the possibility of it happening again. On the contrary: The resurgence of nationalist sentiments is the first step towards the kind of fragmentation that would make conflicts conceivable once again.

Keep calm and carry on? No. Britain's withdrawal must serve as the moment at which we make those remaining in the European Union aware of why it is so important that we stand together -- despite, indeed because, it is so difficult to constantly be coordinating and taking the interests of others into account. If we can succeed in this change of consciousness, then Brexit will turn out to be no more than a bothersome yet benificial shock.

If that doesn't happen, then this Friday will go down as a dark date in history: It will be remembered as the day that Europe began to break apart.

Stefan Kuzmany is the head of the opinion and debates at SPIEGEL ONLINE.


Discuss this issue with other readers!
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paulsabino10 06/24/2016
1. Emotion over facts! - how BMW's are sold...
This will also be true for each and every other EU country. It is clearly understood by salesmen. That was how BMW climbed out of bankruptcy. And that is correct: the central reaction of the EU will be key to the future of the EU. The referendum was not about the UK - as many tried to distract us; the referendum is about the EU. The French and Dutch referendum will be : EU? Perhaps the rain has done justice to the mis-information dished out by all and sundry, and other near cheating tactics. Both campaigns say that both choices will see jobs created. This referendum is Not About The UK. This referendum is About The EU! The Failed Economic Policies of The EU - Greece! Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland! The Failed Foreign Policies of The EU - Russian Invasions of Georgia! Crimea! Ukraine! The Turkish Invasion of Cyprus! Turkish Invasion of Constantinople! Turkish Genocide of Christian Armenians! China Invasion of South China Sea! China Invasion of Tibet! 1,5 Illegal Immigrants Invasion of Europe! This EU is one Failure After Another! So another EU is required. And this one has to fall first. Spirit over Mind ( emotions ) over Matter ( facts )! Good Spirit, Good Mind, Good Material results. God's Spirit, Good Emotions, Good Physical results. Bad spirit, Bad minds, Bad material results. Does Juncker understand?
Jackie Holt 06/24/2016
2. Wrong answer
Europeans don't want ever closer union. Look at the public outcry when Germany tried to enforce fiscal constraints on southern Europe - look at the horror of Germans when asked to dig into their pockets to help out Greece. Europe is, and will always be, a collection of nations looking out for their own best interests. The best way to ensure the survival of the EU is to bin the grand plans of unification and improve EU democracy - allow voters to decide the direction Europe should take, stop trying to impose things on them without their consent. Recognise that the Euro has failed most of Europe, that unconstrained free movement of people is divisive and that Germany welcoming millions of migrants from Africa and the Middle East meant the entire Schengen Area was forced to follow suit! We British were right, the EU needs complete reform. It's just a shame that most people in the UK didn't believe it could be reformed.
philiproyle 06/24/2016
3. Brexit
As an Englishman living in Spain with a Spanish wife you would think I would be all for the EU. I am the epitome of a European. I have family who are Spanish Nationals, French Nationals and of course my family still in the UK. But I'm not. This is my second Refrendum on the EU having voted as an 18 year old in 1975. I voted to stay then. But I voted to stay in the EEC, not what we have now. I have watched over the past 41 years a succession of British governments, lift, centre and right, use their domestic mandate to sign the British people up to treaty after treaty after treaty, non of which the public had a say over. I saw a trading Union turn into a de facto government in Brussels, I saw the expansionism of the EU elite steam roller over the people. I saw the BRussels bureaucratic elites arrogance rise and rise. Blinkers by the 'Project' which is of course the Federal States of Europe. No I am not against immigration, I am not a racist or xenophobic insults that are thrown at anyone who dares say anthrax no bad about he EU! I am not swayed by any economic argument nor the fear aimed at the public by our own government the EU bureaucrats and, what seems the rest of the world. No, I am not against any of these things, what lead me to vote out yesterday was the ruthless arrogance displayed by Europhiles, the superior attitude that the 'Project' was all important and it's survival is the only thing that matters. The elite put the train into gear and tried to drag the people of Europe down the line, a line that they were not happy in going down. The EU failed to learn, it failed to listen, it failed to see and that's why it will fail. They will never change they are in charge and really don't care what the greater public the no or want. The EU powers treated the people of Britian with contempt, hardly a word to console them, nothing right up the the end. If I had heard one kind word, one consilutery sentence from Junkers I may have been swayed. But nothing, just threats. And that's why I and millions of British people voted out. Not through immigration, of finance, or even threats. They voted out because of pure arrogance and a lack of compassion. And now it's to late and I feel that the end of the EU is in sight. Which is a shame it could have worked if only they had listened to the people.
Rumate 06/24/2016
4. Not an bad as panic mongers aim to prove!
We, the majority of europeans who believe in a united and politically integrated EU cannot join the populists and the populist media that wants to portray "brexit" as a catastrophe. Obviously all the ridiculous concessions that have been gradually given to the UK since Margaret Thatcher and the exceptions granted even to other EU countries, such as Denmark, are the reason the EU finds itself in the present crisis. The truth is - and only blind politicians were unable to see - most Europeans who believe in a united Europe can not see themselves in a EU shaped to the British model. The UK (England) has never been part of the European spirit and they could never adapt to a Europe that they did not "control". De Gaulle knew this very well and that is the reason why he always opposed the UK joining. But the reality is that England has nothing to offer in terms of democracy or social justice to the rest of Europe. So perhaps the British referendum's result came as a blessing in disguise and is the last opportunity for Europeans to get a grip of the kind of society that they want to build. I for one am nor "crying" and hope that the leaders from the countries that launched Europe realize that either they very soon come up with a new treaty with rules for all without exceptions or the EU will fall apart. We need a new European optimism and a new European spirit. It is better to have a strong and united Europe with a few than the present EU with the likes of autocratic Poland, Hungary and so on. Perhaps Boris and Farrange did manage without knowing help us to find the right path to a true United States of Europe!
eehines 06/24/2016
5. British Departure
The headline is apt: If We Don't Love Europe, We Will Lose It I could not love Europe less, loved I not Great Britain more. The EU needs to figure this out. Eric Hines
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