At the beginning of the world economic crisis in 2008, the EU entered the eye of the storm and the consequences are still unclear. Though it has been 10 years, we are left with the feeling it is by far not over, with new local or pan-European problems being added, such as the refugee problem, the problems in Italy, or the referendum in Catalonia, which the Spanish government did not recognize. The last, but by far the most important element of this picture is that on 29 March 2019 the UK is leaving the EU, and though this is a sovereign decision, the fact that the second biggest economy in the union is leaving it, is cause for serious concern.
But how did it come about that the UK is leaving the EU and what lessons can be drawn from this decision – this was the question put to discussion at a forum under the patronage of the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe (ACRE) held in Sofia. The forum was attended by Syed Kamall, co-chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group in European Parliament, as well as MEPs from Germany and Great Britain. On behalf of Bulgaria the participants were addressed by MEP Angel Dzhambazki and Prof. Atanas Semov, lecturer at the law faculty of the St. Kliment Ohridski University in Sofia. In their words the fact that the UK is leaving the European family does not mean any bridges will be burnt between them. Cooperation with the EU will continue in the spheres of security and defence because of the UK’s expertise and potential in these spheres.
“There are several reasons for Brexit,” Prof Semov says. “One reason why Britain voted for Brexit was the fact that the need of an honest dialogue with citizens was underestimated, as was the need to tell the man in the street what the EU is and what the benefits but also the disadvantages of membership of the union are. I have always felt that to appreciate the EU one must be bold enough to criticize its shortcomings. Brexit was actually Brusselsexit – a clear sign of disagreement with two European realities. One reality is overregulation. The feeling is still very strong that the European institutions are making rulings which create a sense of overregulation. One example is the General Data Protection Regulation, GDPR. But the vote in favour of Brexit was to a great extent a vote against the federalization of the EU and the sense of over-restriction of the sovereignty of the member countries.”
Another important argument in favour of leaving is the invitation by German Chancellor Angela Merkel who welcomed migrants in Europe, something that called into question the protection of the EU’s external borders. This insecurity, in turn, had an effect on the member countries, whose citizens have been looking to the far right and the Eurosceptics as a way to save their countries. That this is so is evident by the results of the elections in Austria and in Italy where the far right parties are now a factor in the formation of governments in Vienna and Rome that cannot be ignored. The third reason why Great Britain is leaving the union is rooted in the EC’s aptitude to tell individual member countries how to set their domestic agenda. This is the kind of interference we saw with regard to the so-called Mobility package which put a great many transport companies in Eastern Europe at risk of going under.
MEP Angel Dzhambazki stated that the debates on this issue had clearly shown the invisible boundaries created within the EU:
“On the one hand there are those who want to turn the union into a supranational federal state along the lines of USA, and on the other are the people who want to preserve their traditions and historical achievements.The first tendency has been articulated by French President Macron who talks of European unity but has been driving lines of division – between the western “old” countries and the countries of the periphery whose job it is to supply the workforce and play the role of market for the products of the west European countries. On the other side are Poland, Hungary, Austria, Italy. This is shaping a new European agenda so a genuine debate on the future of the union can be started.”