For the European Union, the outcome of the United Kingdom’s referendum does not necessarily spell the beginning of the end. In a government statement, Chancellor Angela Merkel warned against drawing rapid or facile conclusions from the result. Instead she called for calm and patience.
The classic British dictum Keep Calm and Carry On is on everyone’s lips. Of course the question of precisely how to “carry on” is still open, and the E.U.’s 27 other member states are facing not one but two dilemmas.
The first involves how to move forward with the United Kingdom. On one hand, there are good grounds for a clean divorce with no further ado – to set an example. Out means out, and there will be no velvet gloves or special treatment of any kind. Certainly not the sort of cherry picking that Britons have practised for years in the European Union. It is crucial to set the price of Brexit as high as possible to discourage copycats, be it those who want special conditions, too, or those who want the best of two worlds, a kind of “membership light.”
On the other hand, there are just as many good grounds for staying clear of the hard line. The E.U.’s 27 remaining states cannot stay together in the long term by pressuring and coercing third parties.
Nobody truly desires a new edition of the “splendid isolation” that Britain pursued in the late 19th century. After all, close and cooperative relations with the island nation are in the interest of all the E.U.’s member states – not least in order to keep the economic damage to a minimum and to avoid losing the UK as a partner in European foreign and security policy. The door to the E.U. should not be closed too hastily on the British. For nobody can quite tell yet where the country in its current, spectacularly leaderless, form is heading.