Britain and the need for self-definition

Britain and the need for self-definition

Promising “stability and moderation,” the United Kingdom’s new prime minister, Keir Starmer, declared that his country needed a “bigger reset, a rediscovery of who we are.”

However predictable such words may be, when the speaker has just won elections by a landslide, ending his rivals’ 14-year term in power, with the country seeking direction, these objectives take on special significance. Britain has been transformed by many years of austerity, by Brexit, by the pandemic, through consecutive political storms which led the Conservative Party to change prime minister five times in eight years. Relations between various groups in the country are tense, relations with the rest of the world are in flux. Stability and moderation, a reboot and a new self-definition are precisely what Britain needs. 

It is what every country needs. The European Union is stumbling, with the prime minister of Hungary, the country which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, improvising in Moscow with Vladimir Putin, a la Erdogan. In the United States, politicians and citizens are so divided, the judiciary so dedicated to rolling back rights, that “stability and moderation” appear ever more unlikely.

The country’s course will be determined by the outcome of the duel between a serious but old president and a dangerous demagogue who makes no secret of his dictatorial bent. In France, today we will learn the result of President Emmanuel Macron’s reckless gambit, calling snap elections at a time when the extreme-right was on the rise. Will the country find itself with a far-right government? Or in a political impasse? Either way, a problem for France is a problem for the EU, as it will intensify divisions within the Union and could affect Europe’s support for Ukraine, among other issues pertaining to foreign relations.

With Viktor Orban in the EU’s presidency, with Trump heading for a new term in the White House, with France’s Le Pen strengthened, Putin has many reasons to be pleased. But he has not won. Most governments of EU member-states understand the magnitude of the threat posed by an unchecked Russia and an unpredictable America, and they are prepared to strengthen the Union’s defenses and its voice. But they must first shape a Union which has clear goals. On Friday, Antonio Costa, the most likely next president of the European Council, spoke of the need “to send a message of unity among member-states, stabilize relations between institutions, and to put on track the EU’s capacity to deliver what it promises.”

For a reboot and new definition of the Union’s identity, stability and moderation are necessary.

This ambition reveals the seriousness of today’s problem. For a reboot and new definition of the Union’s identity, stability and moderation are necessary. How will these be achieved in a world in which, more and more, (like the British with the EU) we define ourselves by our differences with others? 

Running on autopilot is not enough for a country’s safe passage through the turbulence of international politics and the effects of the climate crisis. The British know this after the adventure of the past few years: Turning inwards does not bring success, nor does it open new channels with other countries. The new prime minister has the will and the character to pursue unity at home and to develop Britain’s great soft power abroad. If he succeeds, this will be a precious, unexpected lesson for an increasingly restless European Union.

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