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Like the British, Europe must keep calm and carry on

The UK’s decision was not the most rational, logic, or opportune, but perhaps the most likely

A voter leaves a polling station in London on Thursday.
A voter leaves a polling station in London on Thursday.HANNAH MCKAY / EFE

This is a serious setback. For the first time, instead of gaining a member, the European Union loses one. In all honesty, and without rancor, we believe the decision UK voters have taken isn’t the most rational, logical, or opportune, but perhaps the most likely after four decades of relentless anti-Europe propaganda that began with Margaret Thatcher saying in 1979, “I want my money back.” Now the chickens have come home to roost.

It’s not as though there weren’t enough warnings throughout the referendum campaign: of the dangers of allowing emotion to rule heads, of the economic consequences, of the damage to Britain, not to Europe, of the fact that once Britain is out, there is no coming back in.

The United Kingdom will lose its vote on issues that will affect it, giving it the status of Norway, or Turkey

Referendums are famously unreliable ways to make major decision, especially when, like this one, it lacks minimum rules like the ones established for Montenegro: a minimum turnout of 50% of registered voters, an affirmative vote of at least 55%. The inherent asymmetry in a referendum means that society is divided forever over the issue in question.

And what should the rest of Europe do? All we can do is try to limit the damage, continue to pursue our own interests, and work to keep the EU moving forward.

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At the economic level, the European Central Bank will continue to flood the market with liquidity so that the pound doesn’t evaporate. Politically, Europe’s politicians will have to send out clear signals that the project of integration continues, while at the same time trying to gauge the mood of their own electorates, particularly in the case of Germany and France.

What happens next? We’ll need to organize a new agreement, this time purely about trade, once David Cameron, before he resigns, notifies Brussels officially of the defeat, setting in motion Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. As a result, the United Kingdom will lose its vote on issues that will affect it, giving it the status of Norway, or Turkey.

We understand and respect the United Kingdom’s decision, but we won’t allow it to provide any encouragement to authoritarianism, to the angry, to those hostile to Europe, and who will now presumably find a spiritual home in London. We must remain firm. Europe today is, sadly, a smaller Europe, but it is still much more than just a club.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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