The European Union on Thursday night dropped the hypocrisy. No longer is harmony the overriding goal. That, though, means that Great Britain may no longer have a place at the table. London must decide whether it wants to remain part of Europe or not.
Europe on Friday awoke to a changed world. The European idea as we know it is in the process of dissolving into thin air. The monumental postwar project of a peacefully unified continent where all member states hold hands in friendship collapsed overnight.
The European Union has divided itself in the face of crisis. On the one side is the common currency union, which is following the Franco-German desire to grow together as a way to finally get the euro crisis under control.
It is a decisive development -- and one that is completely new for Europe. The EU had become used to late-night compromises, last-minute quasi-agreements that take into account the sensitivities of all member states. That form of accord, one based on finding the lowest common denominator, no matter how low or well-hidden it might be, is finished. When it comes to money, friendship is secondary.
One could also formulate it differently: Europe is finally becoming candid. The crisis is forcing EU leaders to finally bid farewell to all those rituals and hypocrisies that have defined Europe in recent years. Isn't it, after all, true that the British have been the fly in the European soup for quite some time now? They always wanted to be there, to have their say and wield their influence. But when it became time to really engage in Europe by joining the euro, the response was: "No euro please, we are British!"
Europe Can Work Fine without the British
In myriad endless EU summits past, this contradiction was systematically glossed over with friendly gestures and obligatory goodwill. Not anymore. Great Britain, the birthplace of realpolitik, a country which has always scorned the EU idealism found on the Continent, has now been backed into a corner -- and it has been pushed there by exactly those idealists it has long disdained. The question is a simple one: Do you want to remain part of a united Europe or do you not?
The euro crisis has exposed a kind of creative momentum that is in the process of creating something new. A new Europe. It is an entity which Chancellor Angela Merkel calls a "fiscal union." But in reality, Europe is on the path toward becoming a federal country. Germany and France would lead, as became clear on Thursday night in Brussels. But leaders must also ensure that all are included. Arrogant posturing aimed at appeasing the electorate back home is damaging.
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That is true of relations between large and small EU member states. But it is also true of relations with Great Britain. The preferred outcome is clear -- of course Great Britain should become part of an integrated euro-Europe. Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy should clearly say so.
Europe, though, can work fine without the British. But what kind of future does Great Britain have without the Continent and without the euro? Will it, in the future, focus exclusively on its alliance with the United States? Will the Commonwealth become a greater priority? What is this small country's role in a world made up great powers such as China, Russia, Europe and the US?
These are the questions that Britain must now answer. And it doesn't have much time. If the Brits wait too long, history will simply move on. Should that happen, it would be "bye bye Britain." Forever. Instead, we should be working toward "welcome back."