"Britain Votes Merkel Out Of Office, Too" is the astonishing headline from Germany's 3rd largest newspaper Die Welt. Pinning the blame for The Brits' vote, the op-ed lambasts The EU's political failure, "The British do not leave the EU as narrow-minded snobs that had not meant it to happen that way, but as proud democrats that no longer wanted to put up with the snags and political failures of the EU;" and puts the blame squarely on the sagging shoulders of Angela Merkel (and her solo attempts at refugee policy)... "voters in Britain basically also voted Angela Merkel out of office. Before she becomes the EU's gravedigger for good, she should follow David Cameron's example."
Britain leaves the EU because a majority no longer wants to tolerate the union's political failure. One key factor contributing to that is the German chancellor's solo attempts in the refugee policy.
The exit of the British marks the beginning of a new era, perhaps less so for Britain, which never really felt at home in the EU, rather than for the rest of Europe. Eventually, citizens between Scotland and the White Cliffs of Dover did not only vote David Cameron out of office, but also the hesitant and narrow-minded leaders in the EU whose arguments did not persuade a majority. Their policy of stubbornly sitting it all out has also failed.
What has until now been the biggest democratic field test on membership in what used to be an exclusive club called EU has demonstrated three things: first, despite undisputable merits, the EU in its current state is simply incapable of mustering majority support. As a result, second, the institutions simply cannot muddle along, out of touch with reality as they are, as they have done so far. And third, the current leaders have been unable to halt the obvious erosion of the biggest political project of the day. Structural problems and crises have apparently been too much for the professional troubleshooters in the compromise factory called EU.
What the EU would actually need now is stringent reforms: tightening decision-making processes, simplifying the tangled institutions, ending the undemocratic procedures by strengthening the European Parliament, and, above all ending the selfish wheeling and dealing in the European capitals that, in most cases, leads to leaving Brussels holding the bag. Yet how is that supposed to be done? How can one calmly go about refurbishing a wrecked home that some of its residents have just left? And how does the administration in Brussels, involved as it will be over the next few months in customarily tedious and obscure exit negotiations, intend to prevent a domino effect?
The British do not leave the EU as narrow-minded snobs that had not meant it to happen that way, but as proud democrats that no longer wanted to put up with the snags and political failures of the EU. It was not them that divided the country into supporters and opponents, beneficiaries and losers, those preferring to live in the past and those looking ahead, nationalists and cosmopolitans. That was all the making of the EU itself. That same institution that accepted the Nobel Prize as a unique peace project has dramatically lost support by allowing chaos to reign over the euro and tolerating unregulated immigration far beyond Britain. Before the British said bye-bye, lots of other places were ablaze as well. The triumph of the neo-nationalists, Orban in Hungary and Kaczynski in Poland, as well as the advance of the leftwing populists of Syriza in Greece, the Five Stars in Italy, and Podemos in Spain have demonstrated how moribund Europe's disagreeing union has long since become. The Brexit is not a dress rehearsal that, when failing, can still be salvaged with a few repairs by the actors involved.
If we are unlucky, the historic drama is already in its final act. On closer examination, the Brexit is just the logical consequence of the EU constitution that failed in referendums in the Netherlands and France in 2005 already. After that, the intricate institutions rumbled on more or less without control and leadership while policymakers ignored to cut the most ambiguous projects of state sovereignty -- Schengen and the euro -- down to size.
Europe has neglected its citizens -- not the other way round. When those citizens can watch the EU, the spin-off and replacement of the traditional nations, doing badly on a daily basis, its leaders should not be surprised when an increasing number of people prefer the somehow functioning original to the shaky innovation. This is the real reason, rather than stupidity and backwardness, that made nationalism, already on the way out, fashionable again in the middle of Europe. The narrow outcome, which would have been impossible one year ago, also shows clearly that Angela Merkel's laissez-faire in the refugee crisis has ruined David Cameron's political career -- and estranged Britain from the EU for good. It was the pictures of the Balkans and the excesses of Cologne, which UKIP [United Kingdom Independence Party] leader Farage loved to refer to with relish, that decided the Brexit.
There are a number of precedents. For some 10 years or so, the EU has no longer been working properly, because it has bound together countries economically and politically that are simply not suited to one another. The fabulous career of Alexis Tsipras from Trotskyite nutcase to prime minister of a bankrupt euro-zone country is due to the failure of the single currency in Greece. Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann was the first, but not the last, head of government falling victim to the refugee crisis. France, Europe's central nation, has been governed for months in a state of national emergency because Islamist bombers were able to also cross the open borders in the Balkans and attack the core of Europe's liberal way of life. There is quite a lot that would allow the situation to be described as a multiple systemic crisis.
Is it a surprise then, when in view of such failure individual EU member states delegate responsibility for their immigration policy to tiny Macedonia and close the Schengen borders at will? Is it a surprise when a whole generation of hopeful young people in Southern Europe have given up on the EU, when the resolution of the euro crisis is deferred again and again for the sole benefit of the banks -- in contravention of all European rules? Grit your teeth and get over with it has long since ceased to be an option, because that stupid tactic has helped the EU go to the wall in Britain.
At the moment, and that says it all, the European Union is only popular and highly regarded in the countries in Eastern Europe. Where people are in fear of Putin's expansionist policy such as in the Baltic states, where billions from Brussels are pumped into infrastructure and agriculture such as in Poland, or where the domestic political elite is much more corrupt and undemocratic than in the EU such as in Romania or Bulgaria -- there, and unfortunately only there, people are eager to join the rundown golf club.
Yet a European Union that will routinely hold membership negotiations with Kosovo, Albania, or semi-dictatorship Turkey will only stagger into collapse. Citizens will simply not play along. And the next referendums could be on the doorstep in core Europe, with neo-nationalists such as Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen in France loudly demanding to let their people democratically vote on membership in the EU. When the benefits of a deal called EU are not eventually felt in the minds and pocketbooks of all citizens, it is unmarketable as a model for the future.
At the moment, the most powerful European, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, tries his hand at being crisis manager of the sorrowful countenance. As Luxembourg's prime minister, he has been diligently involved in dismantling the EU with elaborate tax tricks at the expense of the neighbours. It is an irony of history that Cameron, a democrat, steps down while bureaucrat Juncker could be allowed to slouch over his desk and even lead the humiliating exit talks. If the EU eventually wants to present itself as a democracy, the European Parliament must remove Juncker. Tightening and resuscitating the entire project must be in the hands of younger, changed leaders. If not now, when?
The European disaster in Britain, which - notwithstanding its bitter aftertaste - is a feast day of popular sovereignty, also puts a woman at the centre that has been highly praised by the media and the elites and that many already regarded as Europe's unofficial chancellor. Angela Merkel, together with her finance minister, made the euro crisis in Greece a matter for Berlin to settle. By making the breach of the rules -- the financing of governments -- a permanent state of affairs, she bought time and damaged the sensitive European currency project for good without structurally resolving the malaise in the Mediterranean countries. And when Angela Merkel opened the borders in the migration crisis entirely on her own only to negotiate a dubious deal with Turkish ruler Erdogan also on her own, she demonstrated to citizens what she thinks of the EU and its institutions: very, very little. For the head of a party in charge of the European legacy of Konrad Adenauer and Helmut Kohl, this is a confession of political bankruptcy. On Thursday [23 June], voters in Britain basically also voted Angela Merkel out of office. Before she becomes the EU's gravedigger for good, she should follow David Cameron's example.