An ‘Eastern’ outlook on Brexit in the European integration context

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) disease impact has overshadowed the Brexit issues in the eyes of the
European public, and understandably so. Since the ravages of the so-called Spanish Flu pandemic
towards the end of The Great War, Europe has arguably never faced a more severe health shock.
Brexit on the other hand, despite being a fundamental issue, albeit not as visible a shock in
sociocultural and institutional terms, clearly cannot compete in the newspaper headlines and
breaking news race.

In practice, of course, pandemics tend to be transitory in nature. One may recall the likes such as the
recent H5N1 bird flu, SARS, MERS, H1N1 influenza and some other diseases. Today, only experts
would be able to put these once so formidable threats correctly in order of time and space. Without
even a slightest hint of any disrespect for the millions of COVID-19 victims and despite fully
recognizing the immense scope of damage and severe effects on the society brought upon by the
SARS-CoV-2 virus disease, Brexit will eventually result in much more long-run impacts that, without
exaggeration, will influence both the United Kingdom and continental Europe for decades to come.

The risk brought by COVID-19 into the European society, while new and deadly, is nevertheless an
external one. The pandemic has shone the light on our globalized world weakness and vulnerability.
It has involved billion-dollar damages and the painful losses of so many lives. Yet, it has undermined
neither foundations of the different societies, nor the foundations of European institutions and
mutual relationships of countries. Technically, one could certainly speculate that the entire system of
government might have been destabilized, particularly in the countries failing to fight the disease.
However, no such destabilization has taken place due to COVID-19, and almost certainly never will.

No matter how inappropriate or presumptuous it may seem to place the respective impacts of a virus
disease and people’s decisions in a referendum in the same bracket, it should not be taken
‘personally’. We are in no way attempting to align ‘Brexit’ and ‘virus’ – the focus of our comparison is
strictly limited to two circumstances. The first circumstance – the event positioning as frequented by
the media and public debate – is actually of somewhat lesser significance. The second circumstance
is by far the more important, in that it involves the duration and reach of the event’s impact on the
European area, its arrangement and development.

In drawing the comparison, it has to be noted that the effects of Brexit, while currently less
pronounced, will without doubt be substantially more persistent as well as eventually much more

When we began designing our book The European Integration Crisis: An Economic Analysis
(Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2021,
5982-0), there was no sign of COVID-19, and even Brexit was still in its infancy. Existent at that time,
however, was a decision made by the people of the United Kingdom, clear and unequivocal, yet at
the same time indicating stark disunity. What had already been fully exposed either to curious or
disgruntled citizens of the European countries, and, of the EU member states in particular, was
European integration. It was clear even then that integration had suffered a grave shock which it
would either learn to live with – or would die from gradually.

The COVID-19 disease has dealt a bitter blow to the European Union in this respect. By dint of its
rampant potential to cause fatalities and its sheer aggressive nature, the pandemic has stolen all the
attention not just of the already mentioned media but also of the political representatives and, most
importantly, European nations. Pondering the Brexit impacts in the public zone have almost ceased,
negotiations on newly arranging the UK and the Continent relationships have been swept off the

front pages, driven out into the deep background by other events, and only a few extraordinary and
key moments were able to attract the public interest.
However, a problem not talked about is not necessarily a problem solved, whatever many people
may assume. Brexit is ‘waiting in the wings’, and the earlier COVID-19 is taken full control of, the
earlier the ‘Brexit impacts’ will be felt.

That is what our book is about, albeit by no means exclusively. It would be an absurd mistake to take
Brexit as an event in isolation, shorn of its context and not as part of a cause-and-effect chain, which
it so obviously is. Seen from this perspective, Brexit is but one moment in the great story of
European integration. A story that combines a Messianic mission to build a continent of peace with
the much less sentimental, but much more productive and pragmatic bureaucratic power-base.

In the past, analytical responses to European ideas approached them by employing a variety of
significantly differing ideals and methods. Numerous (whether Europe ‘positive’ or ‘negative’) myths
conceived with participation of not only politicians but many scientists alike have been propagated.
Let us pick just one claim from either camp as a reminder. Anti-integration rhetoric often descends
into much-favoured assertions that a group of the ‘former Nazi’ or ‘fascist’ is behind European
integration. Pro-European rhetoric, on the other hand, claims that integration and unification of
Europe specifically has paved the way for us to enjoy ‘an unprecedented period of peace’. The
former argument would claim to be proof of integration’s ‘criminal nature’. The latter, in contrast, is
aimed to prove that integration is ‘indispensable’.

Of course, what both of these attitudes in fact prove, is flawed thinking from those presenting such
unashamed reasoning. One might possibly condone (or, at least, reluctantly concede as acceptable)
similar approaches when used in the heat of a political battle. But they are certainly unacceptable
when it comes to scientific research of a problem. While the former argument about Nazi
background of the integration effort (‘to unify Europe under German supremacy’) has no
manifestation in reality beyond the obvious fact that the German economy is the largest on the
Continent, the latter entirely overlooks the fact that the European peace foundations are much more
attributable to the complete victory of the socio-political systems, firmly rooted as they are in
democracy, constitution, and cooperation.

We have consistently sought to avoid similar such simplifications in our work. What we have sought
to do was to grasp European integration from the public choice theory perspective, as a process that
as such is neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’. That is, as a generally natural developmental trend, and of the
same natural substance as a trend of prioritizing ‘nation states’ that has been expressed by Brexit.
We have attempted to look at those trends with regard to their consequences and actual effects on
the lives of the nations in Europe.

We will be glad if our book, written from the perspective of the new EU member states, can
contribute even modestly to rationally evaluating integration or disintegration and, in particular, to
gaining a better understanding of the integration efforts, and to regarding them as not necessarily
having the aim of effacing the diversity of Europe’s regions and countries. By the same token,
disintegration does not (of course) automatically mean a step towards non-cooperation. The point is
that ‘integration’ and ‘disintegration’ are to some extent mere political clichés, attempting to
condense immensely intricate social processes down to only two less than satisfactory terms that
lack precise content.

Brexit, no matter how huge in importance, is still just one of the many components of a gradually
evolving mosaic of the European area as a whole. It does not necessarily constitute either an ‘end’ or
‘beginning’ of anything. These, again, are but political clichés. Brexit primarily represents a massive
intellectual challenge for us all to examine this complex area with all its permutations in even greater
detail, understanding how the subject provokes ambivalence, whilst at the same time recognizing its
indisputable interconnectedness.

Luboš Smrčka and Marek Loužek