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25 june 2017, wrong side of history

Sunday, June 25th, 2017

The basic building blocks of the world have long since moved from nation state to continental bloc, or at least giant states, like the us and china in its asian hinterland, that act in that way. Europe was partly constructed to be such a leader in a multipolar world. At its heart is trade, where as the world's largest investor abroad and exporter of goods and services, the eu is a recognised global actor and veto-player. The world trade organisation has 159 members, but a "g7" of australia, brazil, the eu, india, japan, the us and increasingly china who run the show. The picture is similar in most areas of global economic policymaking, such as the g20, imf and the actual g7, where the ecb president replaces the central bank governors of germany, france and italy; an overwhelming majority of oecd members are european. Other areas, such as oil producers, the gulf states and africa exhibit the same intention, if less successfully. Whilst the pendulum quickly moves across the unified representation to national self-interest spectrum in areas such as defence, energy and the un system, it is a broad truism that there are few power-wielding players on the world stage, and they tend to band together as blocs. The eu is one of those blocs and so it is hard, a year on from the uk's decision to leave, not to see the country as being on the wrong side of history. The tables that over the last decades have slowly made way for europe's representatives and interests will not easily make room for another player. A recent un vote on the rights of chagos islanders (moved to make way for an american air base) was notable for most eu countries not supporting the uk; a harbinger of things to come as the default support of the eu out there in the world is removed. This may be a particular uncomfortable position given the shakiness of global governance both longer-term, as europe and the us decline relative to china, india and brazil and the consequent battle for influence and in the shorter-term as an increasing number of diplomatically-illiberal players, including turkey, russia and amazingly perhaps the us, seek to gain tactical national advantage at the expensive of the global common of stability. However, whether born of reactionary, self-interest or global common welfare, leaving the big power the uk has made its home and done so much to build over the last decades is going to be a more powerless place: "it's cold outside" as the 1975 referendum campaign phrophetically warned us.