I argued yesterday that Brexit offers an opportunity for the EU to reform itself. If, as I contend, there is no way-out for the UK or the EU, a rational response would be for the representatives of both to admit that Brexit is just a symptom of a general malaise and to look within the Union for a response that is adequate to the challenges we face. When confronted with the breakup of the USA, Lincoln explained to an obdurate Congress that
“The dogmas of of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, then we can save our country”.
And for those in Brussels and in the UK who may be concerned about their place in history, the President also warned that
“…we cannot escape history. We…will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance or insignificance can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down in honour or dishonour to the latest generation”.
It is time the mutineers on both sides of the Brexit argument in the UK and the Commission came together, admitted the harsh realities of situation, unlocked their horns, thought anew and showed a willingness to act anew by reexamining the erstwhile ‘givens’ underpinning the Union and to address the most glaring shortcomings and idiocies of the current arrangements.
But one more lesson from the 16th President. I have always admired his refusal to put principle above practicality. He offered compromises to avoid and to end the Civil War. Despite his rhetoric, he kept at bay the radicals with dreams of a ‘future-perfect world’, including resisting the pressures of the Abolitionists until emancipation served a practical purpose. Hence, if the EU, including the UK, were to “think anew and act anew”, I would urge them to a mixture of clear determination but to incremental and practical change. No more grand plans, please. Abe won the war by thinking anew, but muddling through. The peace was lost when, after his death, the grand plans of the Reconstruction fell apart (albeit with the enthusiastic help of the Supreme Court).