1) The weakness of the “remain” campaign has been a major contributing factor to the Brexit result. Led by the Tory government, the campaign to stay in the European Union has been perceived, despite some rhetorical declarations, as a defense of the current EU architecture, with its structural flaws, instead of one aimed to radically reform the EU. The Labour Party’s plea to remain in the EU has been much more constructive, but has been, unfortunately, less heard. Moreover, the referendum campaign turned into a succession of scaremongering statements by both sides, ranging from alleged perils of economic catastrophe in the case of leaving the EU, to the threat posed by migrants, often accompanied by xenophobia, if Britain decided to remain. The space for a critical, constructive and honest campaign about the possibilities to radically reform the EU from the inside has been asphyxiated and marginalized by a weak and highly hypocritical campaign led by Cameron, and a populist, alarmist and racist propaganda by Farage.
2) The declarations by European Commission President Juncker some weeks before the referendum, who stated “the deserters will not be welcomed with open arms”, and that Britain “won’t be handled with kid gloves”, are indicative of the aversion of EU institutions to popular democratic decisions, a recurrent theme of the “leave” campaign, although often instrumentalized. In fact, it is absolutely astonishing that top EU officials such as Juncker, who should act as the guarantors of EU treaties, threaten and openly warn of possible repercussions a country that is availing itself of a right EU treaties contemplate, namely the possibility to withdraw from the European Union. Traditional political forces, of which Juncker is a stark example of, have, by far, the largest part of responsibility for the outcome of the referendum. Brexit is a direct result of the destructive economic policies and contempt for democracy shown in recent decades by center right parties and, more tragically, by center left forces, with only insignificant differences between the two. Continuing on the path of the last decades would be a suicidal policy for the European project, and, potentially, for European democracies.
3) In addition to the shameful attitude of EU officials, some financial institutions, such as the IMF, warned that Britain leaving the EU “would precipitate a protracted period of heightened uncertainty, leading to financial market volatility and a hit to output”. Leaving aside personal political considerations about Brexit, it is very worrying that markets and financial institutions can put such pressure on a country and potentially bring financial chaos if the latter takes a decision the “market” does not favour, in total disregard, again, of democracy and popular will.
4) The European political landscape is increasingly marked by the emergence of new political parties and movements, often labeled as “populist” and\or “antiestablishment”. The Brexit result is yet another confirmation of this trend, characterized by the rejection of traditional political parties and policies. The direction this wind of change will take is crucial; as journalist Owen Jones has written, there are two, opposed, ‘antiestablishment’ philosophies: the first one “blames migrants and people fleeing violence and poverty for the multiple problems afflicting European society, from the lack of secure jobs and houses to stagnating living standards to public services ravaged by cuts”. The second one aims at “holding the powerful interests responsible for Europe’s crisis to account” and radically democratise the European Union. Progressive forces around Europe have to unite and work at a local, national and transnational level to make sure the second, progressive alternative prevail.
© Tommaso Segantini