‘Brexit’ is regarded by many as having been mandated following a recent mendacious poll in the UK. The present is dire, the future overwhelmingly seems hopeless for the pluralism places such as London have enjoyed. An unlikely scenario could yet save the dignity of those on the wrong end of the wrong-headed vote.
There is a seed in some of the European Union’s governance rationale that, far from federalisation or integration, could in fact ground a hyper-regionalisation. Think networks of city-states, aligned according to high-level agreements implemented in pluralistic, context sensitive ways. To describe this unlikely future, we have to describe a particular model of governance used in various contexts by European nations.
The Open Method of Coordination (OMC) is a means of governance that does not use law to prescribe responses to circumstances. Instead, OMC develops a structure of common, high level goals among interested parties. Each party determines to work toward the goals, but is not bound to implement any particular approach. Throughout the course of working toward the high level goal, the different parties have regular meetings in which they update one another on what they are doing, and how they are faring. Overall, it is hoped, through this process deliberation can lead to ever-refining processes of attaining the goals set out in the first place.
There have been encouraging results in applying OMC in the context of widening participation in culture and arts across Europe. Widening participation here was the high-level goal, and the measures employed, data accumulated, experience shared among nations aiming for the goal were shared. Overall, responses to the challenge emerged and were refined, making the goal more attainable.
The variation of approaches among nations is seen in the case of the arts. But there seems nothing in principle against a more granular OMC. Participation in OMC toward high level goals could conceivably happen at any level. Certainly, if one thinks of large cities, there is certainly the potential for the pursuit of ambitious goals. Large cities have the resources, people, ambition, and experience to act as many nation states could. Were this to be the case, hyper-regionalisation could be a possibility within OMC.
If we imagine hyper-regionalism as at least possible under the auspices of an OMC approach to framing social policies, the case for locations like London signing up to a European OMC despite Brexit is opened. This would be akin to a working arrangement, rather than a deal for London, apparently ruled out by David Davis.
London, an open society within a largely apparently closed nation, decides to sign up to the overarching goal of freedom of movement, along with 27 colleague groups. These could be national governments, or the European Commission and its agencies, or whoever can act in the OMC context.
In terms of goods and services, pursuing the OMC agenda could mean ‘badging’ certain London businesses as ‘EU compatible’, or ‘OMC approved’. This would be predicated upon their origin as welcoming to worker mobility, for instance. These things could enter European markets avoiding the crippling tariffs enjoyed by Brexiteers, who would continue to pay as they controlled their destiny. Meanwhile, OMC goods and services would, for the rest of the UK, incur tariffs: the UK market would have to pay more for access to these items on account of their higher standards.
To ensure the longevity of mobility, the OMC group could suggest a special queue at airports for workers travelling to London from the OMC colleague group. With colleagues such as national governments and the European Commission, and with the power of European market access as clout, this could be a good prospect. This would avoid the visa queues enjoyed by Brexiteers, as they explore their reinvigorated sovereignty.
It would be likely, in this unlikely OMC scenario, that the UK would respond with punitive measures against London. At least two things would likely happen here: London could absorb the punitive measures, having them offset by its 27 colleagues, and the 27 OMC colleagues could produce punitive measures against the UK, to offset the support it now provides to London, its OMC colleague. Whatever the measures implemented, the London OMC group would have the advice, support, and reciprocity of the 27 other OMC colleagues.
It might soon be noticed, by places such as Scotland and Northern Ireland, that membership in the OMC group is of high value. Entry to the OMC group by Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast, could next be sought. A network of OMC members, agreeing to pursue goals such as freedom of movement as a condition for special EU market entrance, could emerge. Such a network of cities would stand as polities without a state, whose citizens would enjoy the benefits of OMC compliance. Shops could sell OMC goods alongside Brexiteer items. The benefits of negotiating trade deals with every nation on the planet and with the OMC group would be extended to Brexiteers.
Overall, the result would be a single market among Europeans, Brexiteers, and with OMC-group members. The differences would be located in the price and quality of the goods and services on offer. A post-national, deliberative, post-Brexit, open economy based in OMC; an open, collaborative EU modelled on cooperation via cities, not the state.
An unlikely scenario.