Time to reimagine Europe

Mary Fitzgerald writes: My daughter is three and my son is nine weeks old and from time to time ­– in the evenings when I can stay awake long enough – I write a diary for them that I hope they’ll read as adults. As well as documenting their first smiles, steps, jokes and nightmares (‘the wicked witch stole my snot rag!’), I’m trying to bring to life some of what’s happening in the world outside their home. And so I’ve been asking myself how to convey the events of the last few weeks to people reading about them in 20 years time.

In the end, 16 million Britons voted to stay in the European Union. Over 17 million voted to leave. It’s complicated, but both official campaigns primarily fed off and stoked fear: fear of economic collapse on the one hand, fear of immigration on the other. Across the mass media we heard little from those trying to advance more positive arguments: the idea of European/global citizenship on one side, of what ‘more democracy’ would mean on the other.

Whether you’re angry about the troika’s treatment of Greece or you want tighter immigration controls, the bloated, unaccountable, elitist EU can be blamed…

On openDemocracy, as always, we’ve tried to give space to perspectives sidelined or ignored elsewhere. During the lead up to the vote, we brought European voices into an alarmingly parochial national conversation. We asked if another Europe is possible and what a post-xenophobic politics would look like. In the wake of the result, we’ve featured the views of readers from the north of England to Kazakhstan, and profiled different reader voices on the future of the UK Labour party. We’ve asked what happens to EU migrant workers, to Scotland and to the entire continent. And we’ve challenged the idea that Leave voters didn’t know what they were doing – a dangerous and condescending attitutude which risks learning nothing from the result. Meanwhile Anthony Barnett’s Herculean ‘Blimey it could be Brexit!’, a magnificent book written ‘live’ one chapter a week during the referendum campaign, is a precious gift to those trying to dig deeper into what it all means both now and in the future. 

I first drafted this article on the assumption that Remain would win, narrowly, and I warned against complacency and urged democratic reform of the EU. The fact that I was wrong about the result only reinforces those arguments. France chooses a new president in less than a year and the majority of opinion polls predict the Front National’s Marine Le Pen comfortably winning enough votes to be one of the final two candidates. The Brexit result is a gift for her, in a country where anti-EU sentiment is even higher than in the UK. Germans will also vote for a new government within the year, with the right-wing anti-EU Alternative for Deutschland rapidly gaining ground. The warning signals have been growing louder for years, with the far-right candidate Norbert Hofer’s narrow defeat in Austria’s presidential election yet another recent close call. On the right and the left, whether you’re angry about the troika’s treatment of Greece or you want tighter immigration controls, the bloated, unaccountable, elitist EU can be blamed.

Perhaps when the citizens of other European countries see the political and economic turmoil visited upon the UK, and watch the leaders who urged Brexit in short order failing to deliver on their promises, the idea of leaving the EU may start to look less appealing. But while many of the underlying causes of their discontent remain, such an effect is likely to be minimal.

Either way, a quick second vote or some other procedural or legal gymnastics to bypass Britain’s referendum result would be a big mistake. [Continue reading…]

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