After Brexit: is Europe over?

Saturday 19 November, 11.00 - 12.15 , Kulturhuset Stadsteatern, Stockholm Battle of Ideas Europe


This session is one of five debates at a special one-day Battle of Ideas event at Kulturhuset Stadsteatern.

In the wake of the UK’s decision to leave the EU earlier this year, questions have arisen about the future of the union. Eurosceptic movements are growing across Europe, with varying degrees of animosity to EU institutions, from those demanding radical reform of the EU to those demanding its abolition. France’s Front National issued a call for ‘Frexit’, Dutch populist Geert Wilders promoted ‘Nexit’, while the Sweden Democrats demand ‘Swexit’. Discord in EU member states over diminished national sovereignty in law-making, border control and the economy, combined with the EU’s lack of democratic accountability, seems unlikely to disappear anytime soon. Is the EU in danger of disintegration? And is it even worth trying to save?

Originally conceived as a trading bloc, the EU moved rapidly towards political union in the 1990s and 2000s, yet these shifts towards an ‘ever closer union’ rarely met with widespread support from the European public. The European Constitution was rejected by plebiscites in France and the Netherlands in 2004, before being shelved and replaced with the Lisbon Treaty, which did not require a referendum in most countries. Despite its unpopularity in many quarters, polls show that the majority of people living in EU member states favour continued membership, albeit in some places by a slim majority. In the aftermath of the British vote, however, there was a surge of goodwill towards the EU in many countries. Swedish support for membership jumped from 53% to 63% in the following weeks. International media widely reported the Brexit vote as a terrible mistake, a step into the past, leaving behind the economic stability, unity and free movement guaranteed by the EU. Yet for years, the EU has been an economic basket case, while its institutions, rather than representing unity, have been distant and largely unaccountable to the European demos. The EU’s much-lauded free movement extends only as far as its own borders, with more migrants dying each year in attempts to cross the EU frontier than on any other border in the world.

All this has led many to ask what the EU is actually for? As one of its largest member states leaves, what is the way forward for the EU? Will other member states hold their own referendums to ask their citizens if they wish to follow the UK out of the union? Should the EU reform its institutions to be more democratic and perhaps even cede a measure of sovereignty back to member states as a way of appeasing anti-EU sentiment? Does the EU have the political will to do so?