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Brexit and Beyond

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Courtesy Reuters A bus painted with Anti-EU Constitution message passes Westminster Abbey as guests arrive for a royal service in London on June 2, 2003.
Foreign Affairs From The Anthology: Brexit and Beyond
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What If the British Vote No?


In June 2004, the member states of the European Union concluded the negotiation of a treaty that, if ratified, would establish a European constitution that would make substantive changes to the way the union works. For the first time, an individual would be appointed president of the European Council, overseeing the regular summits of the heads of government of the EU nations and their foreign ministers. The EU would itself have a foreign minister. The amended rules on majority voting would allow a measure to pass if 55 percent of the member states were in favor, so long as they represented 65 percent of the EU's population. And the EU would gain new powers in justice and home affairs, requiring cooperation among interior ministries on immigration, asylum, crime, and justice.

The governments of all 25 countries have signed the treaty, but it cannot take effect unless ratified by each member state, through parliamentary vote or referendum. Ten EU countries have chosen to hold referendums. In February, the Spanish voted 77 percent in favor. A similar margin of victory is expected in Portugal and Luxembourg. Approval is less certain in the forthcoming French, Dutch, Polish, Danish, Irish, and Czech referendums, although opinion polls point to a positive result in all those countries. Only in the United Kingdom do the polls suggest that a majority will vote no. But that vote alone would throw the EU into a constitutional crisis.

Any initiative to salvage the constitutional treaty at that point would face huge political and legal obstacles. Some member states would probably try to push ahead and exclude the United Kingdom from the EU. Alternatively, France and Germany might seek to establish a "hard core" of states committed to a closer union, a new organization that would coexist within the broader EU. More plausibly, however, sets of ambitious countries might set up several different vanguard groups to facilitate closer cooperation in particular policy areas. Thus, Europe would have not a hard core but a "

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