My 350 on BREXIT: After Brexit, countries will have more power to resist neo-liberal financial measures

"Although I realize that Brexit has many far-reaching consequences, I tend to agree that this development provides freedom to other countries, who are in much need of this freedom."

Jan van Heuzen
29 June 2016

In the aftermath of the historic British vote to leave the EU, openDemocracy is asking for our readers' thoughts on Brexit and what needs to happen next in 350 words. We've had an extraordinary response and you can read them all here.

Although I realize that Brexit has many far-reaching consequences – and the xenophobia and racism involved makes me want to throw up – I tend to agree that this development provides freedom to other countries, who are in much need of this freedom. Allow me to make this point with willful exclusion of other important considerations.

Over the last few years we have seen some serious crises in the EU. Spain, Portugal and Greece were all understood to threaten the financial wellbeing of the entire Eurozone. Greece came closest to exiting the EU. The reason Greece wanted to exit, was not because exiting was a goal in itself, as is the case with the United Kingdom. 

Greece wanted no more of the neo-liberal financial measures – the cost-cutting needed to get its national budget up to EU standards was considered too damaging by the new Socialist government a year ago. Indeed, the effect of all the cost-cutting was dramatic.

As a cynical side note: even the IMF has now released a report indicating that neo-liberal financial measures damage countries, rather than helping them. But for Greece, a Greek exit (Grexit) was a whip, a disciplinary measure, with which the Greeks were threatened if they failed to implement the required financial measures. This threat proved effective, and following crisis after crisis, Greece gave in and followed the neo-liberal financial agenda.

Imagine if Greece hadn't given in and chose to leave the EU. Almost certainly the EU would have tried to make this as difficult as possible. If the disciplinary measures proved insignificant, other countries would notice. That's why I believe the consequences for Greece would have been made as extreme as possible, to deter other countries (Spain, Portugal) from following suit.

Britain is important to the EU, so relations must remain strong and friendly – even after Brexit. Brexit negotiations will therefore be fair (at least in comparison to a Grexit). This will create a precedent on how to exit the EU. In international relations and international law, precedents are very important.

The results of the negotiations between the UK and the EU will inform future expectations and negotiations, empowering those who want to exit but are not as important as the UK. But even more important, the exit as a disciplinary measure will be less threatening. Countries will have more power to resist neo-liberal financial measures, and thereby gain power during negotiations, even when they want to stay in the EU.

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