Everything or almost everything has been said on the political and economic consequences of Brexit: possibility of Remain, Leave, number of jobs to be lost, falling pound, loss in GDP, borders and end of the European Union as we know it.
Everything, except perhaps, the political coup it represents. Everywhere in Europe, our leaders try to compensate a loss of political legitimacy by emotional blackmail and authoritarian postures. Looking at the campaign arguments on both sides, Brexit looks just like another ideological emotional communication campaign for the masses: “fear or fear not”.
We have to admit that referendum is (or was?) a formidable tool of democracy. Looking at popular initiatives, it allows Italian citizens, Swiss and Austrian, bringing together a predetermined number of signatures to hold a referendum on a proposed text. If the critical number of signature is reached, the Parliament opens the legislative debate by proposing the referendum.
This solution was also implemented in 2009 at EU level by the European citizens’ initiative. This opens the possibility for a million EU citizens to challenge the Commission as part of its prerogatives and to submit a legislative proposal. While being a model of participatory democracy on paper, ICE has quickly disappointed in practice as the Commission remains judge and party in the final decision.
We will see a certain irony in the fact that the Lisbon Treaty, which introduced ICE in European legislation, also opened the possibility for a Member State to withdraw from the Union.
The Brexit perfectly illustrates the lack of political responsibility ethics in favor of the illusion of participatory democracy and short term politician strategy.
The British referendum to be held on June 23 was born as a desperate spin from David Cameron during the 2013 campaign. Cornered by both the rise of UKIP and the reactionary nationalist wing of his own party, Cameron had fired at the time his last round of political credibility by promising a vote on the EU.
By inviting people to vote for or against keeping the country in the European Union without foreseeing the consequences in the short and medium term, the Prime Minister had affected not only participatory democracy but also the last vestiges of the European dream in Great Britain.
The referendum allows taking people hostage of a poor decision and monopolizing the political debate to bring them up to the extreme of the political spectrum artificially. The concessions obtained by Cameron since February 2016 are already significant and constitute a blow to the European model and its added value for Britain: reduced access to social benefits of EU citizens resident in the United Kingdom, end of the goal of “ever closer union”, veto power of national parliaments, recognition of several currencies in the European Union and the simplification of regulations with the limitation of the European ambition to one big free market. So what is the real interest, if not to ensure a political victory on the European stage, to propose such a choice to the Brits?
Here lies the real problem with Brexit: it is a very bad idea. There is absolutely nothing good for the UK in leaving the EU, while the EU Institutions are at a turning point in their own history.
Apart from the direct satisfaction of low nationalist instincts forgetful of the interconnection of our modern world, leaving the European Union will not improve the lives of British citizens. It may instead weaken the rights of workers and consumers. In addition, this artificial respiration imposed on partner countries was certainly not needed to renegotiate the terms of an agreement with the EU. In the same way that Brussels has folded on the refugee issue to preserve the scores of the CDU, EU sailed to the rhythm of the internal turmoil to the Conservative party. The 28 nations forming the EU advance in parallel at various paces on complex subjects. All the crises we face today exceed by far the simple power of an isolated nation. Negotiation and dialogue have been at the foundation of this strange assembly, unique in the world: a Union between consenting states, aware of their own limits.
The referendum on Brexit is another form of the nationalist contraction now raging in Europe: a reassuring chimera that avoids complex thinking and refuses to confront the world to come. Energy issues, the great migrations, climatic constraints, the reorganization of the financial markets, the digital transformation of work, finance and the free power of multinationals: how a small country like the UK or France can claim finding on its own positive solutions for its people?
Brexit or not, there will be only losers on the evening of June 23. A Prime Minister willing to sacrifice the economy of his country and its political legitimacy for what’s left of power to take, a European project destroyed by populist campaigns, and participatory democracy reduced to an illusion. When Europe will cease to exist, populism will have to look for other victims, leading us to a possible Peacexit.