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What Fractures Political Unions? Failed Federations, Brexit and the Importance of Political Commitment

Dora Kostakopoulou

The Brexit outcome of the referendum on the United Kingdom's continued membership of the EU on the 23 of June 2016 suspended the vision of a 'Europe of solidarity' and made the fragmentation of the EU both thinkable and real. In the process of its disentanglement from the European Union, the United Kingdom seeks the retreat of solidarity within national borders and the uncoupling of the British society from 'the society of the peoples of the Union'.This is an unprecedented development in the process of European unification; the latter has seen pauses but no retreats. This is an unprecedented territory for theories of European integration as well. Premised on an assumed willingness on the part of the Member States to participate in transgovernmental or supranational arrangements, their theoretical repertoire has explained intergovernmental dissent, stagnation, spill backs, incrementalism, differentiated integration and so on. But adjustments are needed in order to account for the British 'no to Europe' and the muscular discourse on the repatriation of powers from the EU to the Member States in the present socio-political and economic conjuncture. The UK is not the only Eurosceptic voice; governmental elites in the new Member States, such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia, and non-governmental political elites in the Netherlands and France find an opportunity to express their intergovernmental vision of the EU and to re-assert the national muscle. Looking at the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union through the lens of European integration theories and revisiting an older question posed by Franck et al, namely, why federations fail, are the aims of this article. The subsequent discussion highlights the role of political commitment to the success or the failure of a political Union and suggests a reconsideration of the situated agency in processes of political fission. This has implications for European Union and the position it will adopt in the withdrawal negotiations following the activation of Article 50 TEU as well as for European integration theory.

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