Orlando Figueiredo

Brexit or Europe ‘s a mess.

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[Versão portuguesa disponível brevemente]

June 23 morning was the morning when Europe we awoke to a new internal order; a Europe without the UK and, maybe, even a disaggregation of the UK itself.

Personally I never really believed that the UK citizens would vote a ‘NO’ to Europe on the referendum, however, they did it. With a turnout of 72.2%, British people are divided in three groups of nearly equal size. From the 46.5 million electorates, 17.4 (51.9% of voters) have chosen to leave the Europe Union, 16.1 million (48.1% of voters) have chosen to stay within the EU and 12.9 million (27.2% of the electorate) have chosen not to choose and didn’t bother to vote.

Having watched a few spots from both campaigns, I found the ‘NO’ campaign particularly demagogic as are the speeches of Nigel Farage. Nevertheless, it seems to have worked properly.

Much have been said about the ‘NO’ voters typecast. Apparently they are older working-class people who, according to what Lisa Mckenzie wrote on The Guardian, ‘are sick of being called ignorant or racist because of their valid concerns [and to whom] the EU referendum has given […] a chance to have their say’. Although, I easily understand and sympathize with their reasons and frustration, the way they found to express their resentment will not be much of a contribution to alleviate their reputation.

The romanticized versions that the UK is giving a lesson of democracy to the EU are distressingly naïve. In fact, if there is any lesson that last Friday the UK gave to the EU and the world was a lesson of ignorance and irresponsibility. Right after the referendum results were announced, on that same morning, according to Google Trends Twitter account, the five most searched sentences were: 1. What does it mean to leave the EU?; 2. What is the EU?; 3. Which countries are in the EU?; 4. What will happen now we’ve left EU? And 5. How many countries are in the EU?

 It looks like the British people have put the cart before the horse and after being confronted with the results of their own actions, decided to educate themselves about it – slightly late, in my opinion. What kind of democracy lesson is the British giving to the EU? One that promotes ignorance and irresponsibility?

Nonetheless, they are not totally wrong. In fact, the EU was asking for a result like this. The European project was transformed in a financial project and European Institutions are forgetting to democratize themselves. The British vote was a vote against a Europe that stopped of being concerned with long ago – ironically, it was during the 11 years (1979 – 1990) of Thatcher’s administration that the neoliberal politics prevailing today were implemented (with the support of Ronald Reagan in the US).

I am not saying that ‘NO’ voters established all the connections between their legitimate, respectable and real difficulties and the UK European membership. Sociology taught us, long ago, that the responses to referendums reflect more the people’s opinion about the performance of the incumbent government than clear answers to the subjects addressed and the last Friday referendum was particularly contaminated by demagogic lies and advertises.

It might have been the biggest mistake on David Cameron’s political career, but we must thank him because he opens an opportunity to the UK and all other countries which are members of the Union to reflect on what we are doing with the European project.

It is clear now (as if it wasn’t before) that the EU institution must run for a serious and urgent process of building democracy and transparency. Europeans (yes, this is how we should start calling ourselves) do not support any more vicious institutions embed in a fog of mystery and conspiracy. Europeans are claiming for a democracy at European level capable of promoting equality and wealth distribution. That must be the reading that we should all do from the UK referendum. Again, I am not saying that this idea is clear in the mind of all ‘NO’ voters. What I’m saying is that democratizing Europe is the way to promote the values defended by the continent since, at least, the age of Enlightenment, back in the 18th century.

But perhaps, the biggest lesson should be learned by the left-wing parties. During the last years we have assisted in Europe to a neo-liberalization of the socialist parties in Europe. We can see it through the politics of, among others, Francois Hollande in France and David Cameron in the UK. Grassroots socialists are losing their faith in the socialist parties and running out of trustworthy political choices. The neo-liberalization of socialists parties all over Europe is opening the door to extreme right-wing movements to gain terrain. These parties have a demagogic but simple discourse, capable of convincing people to stand for their ideas. This was what happened recently in the UK.

But what future scenarios can we expect to know? First it is important to say that it is not clear, yet, that the UK will be really leaving the EU. It is important to understand that the referendum does not legally bind the parliament to approve the necessary laws necessary for the consummation of Brexit. David Cameron’s resignation leaves way for a second referendum coming in the form of elections for a new parliament and government. Having said that, he shall leave in October, the new elections might bring a new light on this astonishing results. And, in my opinion, after the absolute discredit of Nigel Farage and the ignorance about what they were voting for expressed on the media and through the internet during yesterday, it is not clear that the British people will vote in accordance with the referendum result. This is particularly true if the internal cohesion problems of the UK are taken into account. Scotland and Northern Ireland might really get out of the Union, and say ‘farewell United Kingdom’.

During next elections, the UK electorate might vote the for an anti-Europe parliament reaffirming their will to leave the EU or, most likely, vote for pro-Europe parliament, clearly affirming the denial of the referendum results, showing their will to stay within the Union.

One thing we can be sure: the subject is far from being settled, if it will ever be.

Autor: Orlando Figueiredo

| Professor | Investigador | Ecologista | Ativista | Aprendente do mundo |

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