- From the Editor
On 23 June 2016, the United Kingdom held a momentous referendum to determine whether the country should remain part of the European Union or begin the process of leaving an institution and project in which it had been a member since 1973. Contrary to the outlook of most political pundits, London bookmakers, and even the leaders of the “Leave” campaign themselves, a majority of UK voters supported leaving the EU—a move known as the “Brexit”—by a narrow 52 to 48 percent margin. The surprise victory by the Leave campaign has created what many have now called a seismic shift in the balance of power in Europe, and indeed the world. In the aftermath of the referendum, the United Kingdom and the twenty-seven other member-states of the EU are now trying to determine the future of the world’s largest trading bloc without one of the world’s largest economies.
Perhaps one of the most surprising aspects of the referendum’s results is that the United Kingdom had been in relatively better shape than its EU counterparts on the continent. While still enjoying the benefit of being part of the Common Market and thus being able to export its products freely to the trading bloc’s 500 million consumers, London wisely had chosen not to join the single European currency, the euro, and avoided the economic disruptions that have since befallen Spain, Italy, Portugal, and, of course, Greece, which nearly crashed out of the eurozone in July 2015. In addition, London also did not become a party to the Schengen Agreement allowing for the free movement of people among Schengen member-states, and therefore it has been able to enforce tighter border controls than most of its EU partners across the Channel. [End Page 1]
Traditionally, the United Kingdom has played a pivotal role in balancing relations and relationships among the EU’s larger members, between larger members and smaller ones, and between established, original members of Western Europe and more recent entrants from the former Soviet bloc. Indeed, one of the original purposes of the EU, to weave Germany peacefully into a politically stable and economically prosperous continent, is very much dependent upon the United Kingdom balancing the bilateral Franco-German relationship; supporting the EU’s second-tier powers, such as Spain and Italy, from potential German or French overextension; and even standing up for some of its traditional junior partners on the continent, including Belgium, Holland, and Portugal, vis-à-vis Europe’s larger and more powerful countries.
The Brexit also risks London’s “special relationship” with Washington, which views the United Kingdom as an important, like-minded advocate for many US foreign policy objectives. It potentially endangers the United Kingdom’s position as an English-speaking launching point for US companies wishing to do business within the Common Market. Moreover, the prolonged political disruption due to expected Brexit negotiations plays into the hands of President Vladimir Putin and his ongoing designs to reassert Russian power in Eastern Europe. Only time will tell whether the Brexit vote will be contained to the United Kingdom, or whether this is the beginning of a greater unraveling of the EU and the political and economic stability it has nurtured for nearly six decades. Many of the essays in this issue of the Mediterranean Quarterly demonstrate the EUs constant, if unspoken, presence that Brexit now puts at risk.
“From Mercantilism to Exclusive Economic Zones: How Nation-States Have Laid Claim to the World’s Resources,” by George C. Georgiou, examines the role of nation-states from antiquity until the present day and how they have increasingly come to dominate the so-called global commons and its fewer and fewer resources. To some extent, it can be argued that the competition among nation-states is at the heart of the growing disenchantment in many EU countries, with many smaller, poorer states of Europe’s southern and eastern regions perceived to be an economic drag on the larger, wealthier neighbors of the north and west. Indeed, the Brexit vote very much demonstrated that the majority of British voters, particularly those from an older generation who overwhelmingly...