WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Radek Sikorski, a former Polish foreign minister with longstanding ties to Britain, said he is "very worried" British voters could opt to leave the European Union, fearing it could weaken a political arrangement that has given Europe its longest-ever period of peace and prosperity.
Speaking to The Associated Press on Monday, Sikorski argued that a weaker EU would be particularly risky for nations like his own, which has historically been at the mercy of its large neighbors Russia and Germany. He also argued that it threatens to leave Britain more isolated and economically weaker.
"I think Britain's membership has been hugely beneficial to the people of Britain," Sikorski said. "So I hope they stay with us. We would miss them."
Britain is holding a referendum on June 23 to decide whether to leave the EU or remain. The possibility of Brexit, as a British departure from the EU is called, poses a major existential crisis to the 28-member bloc, which is also being sorely tested by the migration crisis.
"I think the EU is being blamed for a general perception that the island is overcrowded and general pan-European fears about identity and multi-ethnic relationships that, I think, have much more to do with Britain's colonial past than with membership in the EU," Sikorski said.
The EU project began to take shape after the end of World War II in hopes that greater economic and political unity could prevent the kind of bloodletting that has marred Europe for centuries.
Sikorski, one of Poland's most internationally prominent leaders in recent times, said he believes that Brexit carries the risk of "a psychology of a bank run in which other countries have referenda, and with all the manifold crises that Europe is dealing with, we could see at least the weakening of an arrangement that has given Europe the longest period of peace and prosperity."
"One doesn't want to fear-monger, but we know what Europe looked like when Europe didn't have an overarching framework in which the interests of its nation states were mediated," Sikorski said. "The re-nationalization of policies, particularly foreign and defense policies in Europe, is not something that I would wish on anybody, least of all Poland."
Sikorski, who has also held the position of defense minister and speaker of parliament in Poland and is now a senior fellow at Harvard University, argued that a weaker EU would help Russia.
"There is no surprise that Russian media, Russian troll factories, Russian money is supporting Brexit," said Sikorski. "It makes sense that Russia would like to deal with Europe one-by-one and not with the European Union as a whole. That would strengthen Russia's negotiating position vis-a-vis every member state. What surprises me is that some people in smaller countries don't see that."