BERLIN - Europeans are in a virtual state of paralysis about the future, frozen by a fear that – were they to turn away from Brussels – the result would be a rise of reactionary nationalism.
Not surprisingly, these new chauvinisms are perfectly suited for some political agendas – on all sides of the ideological spectrum. Still, some thoughtful observers are beginning to flirt with the idea of moving away from Brussels, and weighing the new turns the Continent could take with an eventual exit of London from the EU, particularly in terms of the economic consequences for both Europe and the UK.
A decisive step on the part of the British could actually give new impetus, and new energy. Many countries that have perceived themselves as too small to act on their own could begin to see the constraints of collective debt and Brussels bureaucracy.
This renewed sense of possibility would in turn widen the horizons of British strategists. The UK's move would thus no longer be about the pros and cons of departure, but rather about seeking more suitable alliances.
Would the Dutch still feel the same way about the EU if there was no North-South divide anymore? How much better things would look in Flanders if the issue wasn’t Wallonia but a more viable Union... Scottish independence would also lose its escapist flavor because everybody from Belfast to Cardiff would be part of a new alliance of states.
A federation of northern countries – Iceland, Scandinavian nations, Belgium, the Netherlands, the British Isles, Ireland – would almost certainly entice the German states of Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein, whose dowry would be the Kiel Canal. After all, Altona lived comfortably with Denmark for some 200 years.
And the idea that this would somehow be a return to a Teutonic past doesn’t hold water: in such a large alliance, the northern Germans would constitute a minority that none need fear. There are historical precedents – one thinks of the German citizens of the Hansa cities of Danzig, Elbing and Thorn, which in 1454, and then for nearly 350 years, linked up with the Polish Rzeczpospolita to protect themselves from the murderous attacks and plunder by fellow Germans, the Teutonic Knights.
Most Germans would wish the northern Germans well, follow the development with interest rather than the disparagement that often accompanies separatism, sensing how profoundly anti-chauvinistic their secession was. This would be a match for the nonchalance about the independence of Scotland, which is being left free to decide its own future.
A new world power?
Imagine: a territory of over 3.8 million square kilometers (1.5 million square miles), number four in terms of global economy, with 120 million inhabitants, ten languages but with nearly everyone able to understand English – a new and culturally rich space with guaranteed free trade inside its borders, and ever open to the world beyond.
As all members of this northern federation – with the exception of Sweden – are already NATO members, they would have the know-how to organize themselves as a military alliance as well, with British nuclear potential to back it up. Self-sufficient in terms of energy, with plenty of oil, gas, hydropower, shale gas, it could also play a role in reducing energy-related conflict.
The regime in Brussels would not be able to stave off its death throes for long after the creation of such a federation: minus Great Britain, the Netherlands, Flanders-Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Hamburg/Schleswig-Holstein, it would lose some 7 billion euros a year.
The rebels could finance their trim joint bureaucracy with a fraction of what they saved and use the rest for what has become a bitter necessity – seeing to a secure future. Whoever stuck by Brussels would either be asking for even more money or – like Germany, for example – take its leave from further cost overload.
The result would be that, finally, the undemocratic hyper-apparatus that is Brussels would no longer have the financing it needs to continue.
Such a federation could also inspire others. Some like the southern Germans, Austrians, Swiss and northern Italians might forge their own federation. Countries excluded from all this would be left striving to achieve eligibility to the club. This could ultimately mean that a significant chunk of Europe teams up again – only this time not to be run by a moldy bureaucracy, but rather to become an alliance of free nations.
Europe will have learned that the counterweight to yesterday’s ethnic over-independence doesn’t have to be “Europe Above All” – something that Switzerland, with its four languages and cultures, has understood for centuries.