There is an important debate under way about the future of Europe and Britain’s place in the EU. I bring a pro-European bias to this debate. I am a great believer in the Union as it was originally conceived. This is a function of my personal history and of the philosophy I developed based on my life experience.
I lived through both Nazi and Communist occupation in my native Hungary and I learnt at an early age how important it is what kind of political system prevails.
The Europe I believe in was intended to be a practical embodiment of the values and principles of the open society; a voluntary association of equal and sovereign states that surrendered part of their sovereignty for the common good.
For a fervent believer in the open society it is heartbreaking to admit that the euro crisis has already transformed the EU from a voluntary association of equals into a creditor-debtor relationship, which is neither voluntary nor equal.
The policy of austerity that Germany imposed on the eurozone countries was the wrong one. The downward pressure has now diminished and this has given financial markets a lift. But the prospect of a long period of stagnation has not been removed and it has set in motion a negative political dynamic. Anybody who finds the prevailing arrangements are intolerable is pushed into an anti-European posture, so I expect the process of disintegration to gather momentum.
During the acute phase of the euro crisis, we had one financial crisis after another. From now on I expect a series of political rather than financial crises, although the latter cannot be excluded.
Europe is at a crossroads. It faces two crucial decisions: one is the future of the eurozone; the other is Britain’s role in Europe.
The eurozone needs to become more integrated. It needs a common fiscal budget policy, a banking union and a more level economic playing field.
But any move towards greater integration risks exacerbating anti-European sentiment in the UK.
Right now Britain has the best of all possible worlds – it is part of the European common market but it is not part of the euro. Any change would be for the worst as far as Britain is concerned.
I will leave it to the business community, especially the multinationals that use the UK as an entry point into the common market, to explain to the British public what they have to lose: jobs.
But Britain’s exit would be a further step in the disintegration of the EU and it would greatly diminish the weight that the Union pulls in the world and that would be a great loss not only for Europe but also for the world.
In my view, the world is suffering from a breakdown in the rule of law and global governance. Both Europe and America are preoccupied with their internal problems and that has created a power vacuum elsewhere. There are many unresolved political crises causing immense human suffering, as exemplified by the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria.
The breakdown in global governance has been brought closer to home by the Ukrainian uprising and the Russian invasion of Crimea. The Ukrainians are willing to sacrifice their lives for the sake of moving closer to an EU that is in the process of disintegrating. For instance, Britain is dead set on destroying the European Court of Human Rights that is the sole protector of the rule of law both in Ukraine and Russia.
Ukrainians are establishing their identity as Europeans. Isn’t it time for people on both sides of the Channel to rediscover their identity as Europeans? That should make it possible to find a solution to the seemingly intractable problems of the EU.
The writer is chairman of Soros Fund Management and a philanthropist. His book ‘Tragedy of the European Union: Disintegration or Revival?’ has been published this week