Investor and philanthropist George Soros said today (1 June) that the EU should use Brexit as a “catalyst for introducing far-reaching reforms”, transforming itself into an organisation that Britain will want to rejoin before the divorce is completed.
“The divorce will be a long process taking as long as five years. Five years is a very long time in politics, especially in revolutionary times like the present,” Soros told the Brussels Economic Forum.
He argued that within the next five years, the UK will hold another general election, and the next parliament “may want to vote for being reunited” with a transformed Europe.
“This seems practically inconceivable right now, but in reality, it is quite attainable,” Soros said.
UK Premier Theresa May called for snap general elections on 8 June to cement her mandate with a landslide victory before the Brexit talks begin. But the Labour Party has narrowed the distance with the Conservatives over the last few days, according to the polls.
In order to pave the way for such a reunited future, Soros emphasised that the EU “must resist the temptation to punish Britain” and negotiate with London in a constructive spirit.
In his keynote speech before EU policymakers and businessmen, Soros agreed with the bloc’s leadership that the project is in the midst of an “existential crisis”.
“Most Europeans of my generation were supporters of further integration. Subsequent generations came to regard the EU as an enemy that deprives them of a secure and promising future,” he lamented.
After listing the challenges the European Union faces, both internally and externally, Soros claimed that the EU needs to be “radically reinvented”.
Although he insisted that the EU fundamental law is “outdated”, Soros agreed with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble in saying that a treaty change now is “impossible”, and could materialise “only in the distant future”.
“The process of disintegration has lasted a decade. It may take another decade to rebuild trust and reestablish a willingness to cooperate,” he predicted.
Soros’ comments came after the European Commission presented its reflection paper on deepening economic and monetary union, as part of the process to outline a set of major reforms to strengthen the bloc by 2025.
In order to radically transform the Union, Soros told EU leaders to abandon the idea of an ‘ever closer union’, which has been its driving force for six decades.
Instead of a “multi-speed Europe”, a concept also rejected by Eastern European member states, as it is suspected to be a new “Iron Curtain”, Soros called for a “multi-track” Europe, in which national governments would pick among a variety of choices for their future.
“This would have a far-reaching beneficial effect,” he claimed.
But Soros’ idea of a Europe “a la carte” would also find little traction among EU institutions today, as unity has become the new mantra in the aftermath of Brexit.
Together with top-down reforms, Soros advocated for change coming from citizen-based initiatives to engage the electorate, as the only way to reinvigorate an ailing EU.
Italy, the “biggest threat”
The financier recalled the victory of Emmanuel Macron in France and other pro-European candidates across Europe, detecting a new momentum to change Europe.
“The growing momentum may then be strong enough to overcome the biggest threat, the danger of a banking and migration crisis in Italy,” he warned.
Italy’s legacy problems stem from the crisis, especially a high volume of bad loans, combined with low growth and high level of public debt, which have turned the country into the eurozone’s Achilles’ heel, that could bring the euro to its knees.
Soros took the opportunity to counter Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s claims that the financier has used his money to try and control Hungary. Orbán’s government has moved to close down the Central European University, founded by Soros 26 years ago.
“I have strenuously resisted Orbán’s attempts to translate our ideological differences into personal animosity- and I have succeeded,” he said.
Soros fired back at the right-wing leader, by praising Hungarians for resisting “the deception and corruption of the mafia state the Orbán regime has established”.