User:Deryck Chan/Now I think we need to break up the union

From Wikimania 2016 • Esino Lario, Italy
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  • This commentary was originally published as a Facebook Note on 18 October 2016. It is reproduced here for Wikimaniacs' consumption.

2016 June 24, 8am. Esino Lario, Lombardy, Italy.

I woke up in the rudimentary but homely guest house where I stayed for the week for the Wikimania conference. I checked Twitter and found out that Leave had won. I whispered to my roommates, all British delegates to the conference, "Leave won". We nonchalantly walked to breakfast next door.

We all voted Remain and lost.

At breakfast, and indeed throughout the conference, there was gloom surrounding this referendum result. At times this led to unhappy outbursts of emotion. I've written about this in the context of cross-cultural collaboration and you're invited to read that story too:

But beneath the emotion, something felt fishy to me. It soon became apparent that, while I voted Remain, I was clearly by far the most EU-skeptic person in the conference. I arguing, with examples, of good international academic and free-software collaboration that happened because they circumvented the EU establishment, and came under fire for, basically erm, having hope about Brexit.

It soon occurred to me that people from different parts of the EU think about European collaboration in different terms. While referendum debates in the UK repeatedly stressed that "the ever-closer union is over", my French counterparts seemed to still want a united European army. While even the majority of Remain voters wanted to decentralise EU bureaucracy, my Belgian counterparts still believed in standardisation.

It became clear that, after four decades, the Exchange Rate Mechanism crisis, and several treaty revisions, the British public have developed a vision of European cooperation that was fundamentally incompatible with some of our European counterparts. The UK is undergoing perhaps the biggest exercise of power devolution in its history, while the EU is consolidating power from national governments into itself. Every part of the UK is crying for their distinct local identity and prizing local produce - Scotlands, Wales, Cornwall, London, even Cambridge - while the EU is standardising the presentation of bananas.

My shock went further. It seemed that Britons were not the only ones disillusioned by the EU power structure. But small countries relied on the EU - some for the economic benefits, others for the shared governmental effort - and their citizens told me they couldn't afford to even imagine leaving. And the Germans, bless their altruism, needed the EU to keep them in line with the rest of Europe.

As if the German financial establishment hasn't screwn the Greek economy over already.

We need to decide whether the EU is a supranational alliance or a sovereign state. The UK's Remain voters generally wanted the former, but the likes of Juncker and Bellen seemed to want the latter.

If it was a supranational alliance, then a nation ought to be able to leave it. The USA was a collection of "states" until the American civil war, which was essentially Lincoln's way of saying "you can't leave the union". Guess what, a century down the line, the USA is considered a single sovereign state by everybody. Does that remind you of something - the Slovak minister Robert Fico's soundbite that he would make Brexit "as painful as possible [...] as a warning that nobody should leave the union"?

Because if the UK, as the third largest member state of the EU by population and one of the strongest economies within the union, could not afford to leave, nobody could.

And since the referendum gave a democratic mandate to leave the union, failure to do so would tell the world that the EU is now sovereign.

Immigration reduction might have been the headline that helped Leave win the referendum, for which I'm deeply ashamed of my country. But Brexit is much more than immigration: at the heart of the "divorce proceedings" is the tension between a bureaucracy that wants to centralise power to itself, and national politicians who believe the EU has gone too far.

I voted Remain because I didn't want my country to pull up the drawbridge. But after the conference, I've become convinced that change is necessary. Short of a complete renegotiation of the treaties of the EU - which I still hold out hope for - any Brexit scenario is better than no Brexit.

Shortly before the referendum, PWC published a set of predictions which estimated that the UK's economy would be about 4% worse off in a hard-Brexit scenario compared to a Remain scenario. Well, 4% is a price I'm willing to pay for accountability in government.

We need breakfast. While it might not be as good as the homemade cake, jam, and espresso that my host in Esino Lario made me on the day that Leave won, I think we've got to the point that I'd rather eat basics cereal at an inflated price, rather than wait for a luncheon that I might not like. Breakfast, needs to be eaten.