The nowadays famous article 50 of the EU Treaty didn’t exist before the 2009 Lisbon reform.
The founding fathers’ vision of an ever closer union didn’t contemplate a way back … or a way out. The marriage had to be for life. But then, after the big enlargments in 2004 and 2007, some practical minds decided to foresee the possibility of a divorce.
And here we are, with a divorce we didn’t expect to see.
As a British colleague made me notice, the 48% of the voters who expressed the will to remain are not parties in this divorce process, they are the victims: the children.
And the divorce is not formalized yet and this doesn’t seem to happen anytime soon.
Those who say that enacting art.50 is a competence of the British parliament are certainly right, as the parliament ratified and enforced the European treaties in the British legal order and cannot be bypassed by the goverment, repealing these acts. By the way, both the parliament and the government look reluctant as they didn’t really want this outcome.
Those who say that the will of the citizens cannot be ignored are right too. It is absolutely reasonable that such an important decision should require a larger majority, but there wasn’t any rule about it and a majority won.
Both the fields -the Brexit supporters and the remain supporters – have solid arguments on their side.
But there isn’t only the British membership of the European Union at stake. That would be too simple an assumption.
The remain voters are not necessarily supporters of this Union, which has its own undeniable flaws. Most of them stand for an idea: being united with our diversities, being stronger together, being peaceful as a family which solves its own divergences discussing at a common table.
Most of them know that the Union is a work in progress which can be improved only from the inside. And they know there is much to gain from the EU’s open borders and European citizenships’ rights if you are willing to move, explore and challenge yourself and your national limiting beliefs. They reasonably don’t want to lose these rights.
The Brexit voters come from a range of different experiences:
- Some of them have suffered and still suffer austerity;
- Some identify Europe with a suffocating bureaucracy and a political failure, which is how Europe as been sold to British people for decades: as a useful scapegoat.
- Some expressed a feeling of antipolitics, they would probably have rejected any political establishment and just prove the crisis of democracy we all see around us.
- Then there are the champions of national sovereignty, and all sorts of nationalism.
This feeling has been fueled by the huge migrations from the southern shore of the Mediterranean. It is a real emergency and nationalist attitudes won’t help to find a solution whatsoever. But still we can understand where this feeling comes from: fear. Fear of invasion, fear of sharing already meager work opportunities and national resources.
- Finally, some think that a free rider state will thrive on the global market, possibly a more and more deregulated global market. This is a completely different attitude, but still anti-EU. And more than the other views it looks anti-historical as the world goes in the opposite direction: solving problems which become more and more global will require more integration, not less. Even little tax heavens are (finally!) under threat of extinction.
I am totally empathetic with the “remain” voters and still, while I wish the best outcome for them, I wonder if a Brexit is politically avoidable.
However the dilemma will be solved, some lessons need to be driven:
⁃ austerity has not been the solution to the financial crisis. In some countries it even worsened the economic situation. In many states unemployment is still at record level. The price was especially paid by the weaker part of the population, poverty and inequality provided a good soil for populism and nationalism. Moreover, it has been errouneously attributed to Europe, while it was a national solution (as I already explained).
⁃ There is a crisis of democracy and a rise of antipolitics almost everywhere. I have my theory about that: the nation states are not anymore the right institutional framework for tackling most of our problems, we need to go more local and more global at the same time. But – be right or wrong my explanation – we need a serious reflection on our contemporary democracies.
⁃ Finally, we need to work for a better Europe, we owe this to those who voted against it as to those who voted in favour. I have written about this and for sure I will write more extensively in the future. I’ve already been too long!
For those who arrived to the end of my reflections: these are challenges not just for polical elites, not just for governments and states, but for all of us. And this is a call of duty for new brave political leaders at all levels.