Central Europeans Urge EU to Get Back to Basics

The four Central European member states recognize that Britain’s exit should give the bloc pause.

Bohuslav Sobotka, Robert Fico, Beata Szydło and Viktor Orbán, the prime ministers of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary, meet in Prague, June 8
Bohuslav Sobotka, Robert Fico, Beata Szydło and Viktor Orbán, the prime ministers of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary, meet in Prague, June 8 (PiS)

Central European countries have endorsed the call for a more modest European Union in the wake of Britain’s referendum vote to leave the bloc on Thursday.

“The work of the union should get back to basics,” argue the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia in a statement that was released on Tuesday: “upholding the fundamental principles upon which the European projects has been founded, using the full and genuine potential of the four freedoms, achieving the still incomplete single market.”

They also emphasize the need to listen to European citizens and the national parliaments.

“More Europe”

Foreign ministers from the six founding nations of the EU agreed this weekend that the bloc must allow for more flexibility.

But leaders in Italy and Spain also see Britain’s exit as an opportunity to deepen integration.

Spain’s foreign minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, argued the day after the result of Britain’s EU referendum was announced that the solution could only be “more Europe”.

Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi said the focus should shift to social issues.

“What happened in the United Kingdom may be the greatest opportunity for Europe if we stop playing a defensive game and try to give our continent the possibility of a new start,” he argued.

Be wary of more “Brexits”

This is exactly the wrong approach.

Kurt Volker, a former American ambassador to NATO, has warned in The American Interest that if European leaders continue to fail to address the genuine concerns of their citizens, and push the gulf between what we’ve called “blue” and “red” Europe wider, then more “Brexits” might happen, “whether than means the election of populist nationalist leaders, the rise of the far right or the departure of more countries from the European Union.”

The Central Europeans know this. Indeed, at least one of them, Viktor Orbán, is such a populist nationalist himself.

So do the Dutch, who said on Tuesday that Britain’s referendum is a “wake-up call”.

Let’s hope their view prevails, because if European leaders do push for closer integration at a time when half their populations are telling them not to, the outcome can’t be good.

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