With the increasingly relevant French presidential elections to have their second round of balloting on the 7th of May 2017, the British government ought to pause any hysterical movements on Brexit. It’s been nearly six months since British voters decided to leave the EU on the 23rd of June, and since no one in the government seems yet to have a clue as to what they are doing, the best advice one could give, is to quietly put things on pause until the French elections are over.
As a Le Pen victory looks increasingly likely, realities in France could more or less make Britain’s mind up for Britain. In other words, if Le Pen wins, within two years (the maximum allowed time of a post-Article 50 Brexit withdrawal), there may not even be an EU to Brexit from.
The assumption that Le Pen will not win in the second round of voting is far from assured. Her victory would make Britain’s life a lot easier. Brexit would go from being an EU versus Britain issue into an issue which would divide all current members of the EU between those like Angela Merkel, who ultimately favour a United States of Europe and those like Le Pen, who would doubtlessly be joined by others, including those on the left, favouring a more confederate relationship between European states.
The current antagonism between EU leaders and Britain may well end up being a sideshow, a storm in a teacup which represents little more than a prelude to a wider philosophical and political debate on the future of Europe.
If France is led by a committed Eurosceptic, it will make the soft and frankly insincere Euroscepticism of many front-bench Conservative politicians in Britain look feeble at best.
If France and Britain stand in opposition to the German position on Europe, others will also join in, whether it be the vocal Eurosceptic parties of The Netherlands or conservative parties from eastern Europe, many of whom (with the exception of Hungary) favour the anti-Russian polices of the Brussels/Berlin establishment but tend to resent many elements of the Germanic/Benelux economic policies which govern EU thinking in addition to full federal political union.
When it comes to making false assumptions about questions of unity in Europe, Britain’s politicians would be wise to study the history of the divided German states after 1945. In 1952, Stalin wrote a series of four notes to the other three allied powers of the war, the US, UK and France. In these notes, he proposed to settle the German question once and for all.
His proposals for a united German state were incredibly generous by the standards of the West’s own ideals and ambitions. Stalin was willing to cooperate on German reunification and was willing to allow any form of government on the basis of independent, free elections. He did not seek to impose a communist economic system on this proposed united Germany. All he asked is that a united Germany would be demilitarised and officially neutral in foreign affairs.
Similar agreements occurred in Austria. In fact, the model that Stalin suggested for a united Germany differed little to the eventual settlement in Austria, wherein Austria would be allowed to conduct its independent affairs complete with a Western-aligned capitalist system, so long as the government remained neutral in the ‘Cold War’ and did not act as a military aggressor in any sense. Such sentiments were guaranteed in the then new Austrian constitution.
As a result Austria remained generally peaceful and prosperous in the latter portion of the 20th century.
Opposition to Stalin’s proposals came from unexpected places. The Americans actually took the proposals far more seriously than one might have imagined, and many in the US thought that the proposals represented a good compromise option.
It was instead the CDU government of Konrad Adenauer who was most skeptical of the Soviet proposals.
The DFR (West Germany) had it rather good after the war. American Marshall Plan money flowed in and the US desire to use both West Berlin and West Germany as a whole, as a kind of show room of the American way to the rest of the world, played into Adenauer’s plans to pull off a ‘German miracle’…more accurately referred to as a Marshall Plan miracle.
Adenauer’s personal ambition of leading a small but wealthy state, took precedence over the vaguer notion of a peaceful and united Germany. This was indeed the case with many West German leaders who happily paid lip-service to a ‘united Germany’, but were unwilling to lose the generous American aid and international attention that would come as a consequence of Austrian style neutrality.
This whole fracas over the Stalin notes, reminds one of the somewhat crude, but ultimately accurate joke that the cleverest thing the Austrians did was convince the world that Beethoven was Austrian and Hitler was German.
Contemporary British leadership ought to realise that European politics often shifts in unusual directions and that European leaders do not always mean what they say, more so than those from other parts in the world in many respects.
By stalling for time and waiting to see if Marine Le Pen wins in France, British incompetence over Brexit may ironically work in the favour of British lawmakers.