Article first published by Policy Network on 03 May 2016.
Can the concept of ‘platform’ offer a new way of thinking about how the EU can effectively operate?
Whatever the outcome on 23 June, the British referendum has already left a deep mark on the European Union (EU). The Brexit debate is taking place against the background of numerous serious crises directly questioning the EU’s relevance, with all leading to different conclusions. While British leaders have been criticising the EU for its regulatory and institutional overreach – “something that is done to people rather than acting on their behalf”, as David Cameron put it atBloomberg in January 2013 – most voices on the continent have deplored the EU’s lack of clout and ability to impact on ‘big things’ such as immigration, socioeconomic divergences and security. This very paradox is likely to cast a long shadow on the EU’s future: some nations like it as soft as possible, while others see no other way than a political union.
Yet does it make sense to hold the EU together in the presence of such diverging projects, and can it work? In this piece I argue that the concept of ‘platform’ offers some interesting insights on how the EU could operate in the future, in a digitised world where the thirst for bottom-up initiative goes alongside the need for collaboration, data-sharing and resource-pooling.
A world celebrating autonomy and innovation
Let us start where the leave campaign want to take us in the UK. Despite their unconvincing economic argument, advocates of Brexit have done a good job of asking essential questions about democracy and global success in the twenty first century. Michael Gove has put “democratic self-government” at the top of the Brexit rationale, a perfectly reasonable principle. The leavers often take ‘small’, agile democratic nations such as Switzerland, Israel, Canada, Australia and New Zealand as evidence of the possibility to flourish outside larger ensembles. They doubt the EU’s legal and institutional architecture is necessary for European nations to manage their interdependence. Why wouldn’t intergovernmental co-operation and free trade be enough?
Europeans have long answered this question. Back in the 1950s, creating a common market and embedding co-operation within supra-national institutions was seen as a condition for success and instrumental to installing peace. European nations voluntarily locked themselves in the same house and could not escape from the task of building it. After getting in, Britain did a lot to prevent the European house from aiming too high, or building the walls too thick. Instead, it promoted the idea of a large, open tent.