The Road to Brexit

This week’s debate over Brexit has been dominated by President Obama’s visit to the UK. Indeed, different commentators have spoken, on one hand, about whether Obama’s endorsement of the Remain camp should be considered fair or an infringement of British sovereignty, and, on the other, about the significance of Obama’s endorsement. Disagreement about these matters is deep. Let us start with the question of political appropriateness. According to Robin Niblett, on Chathamhouse, Obama has a right to have a say in the British referendum for several reasons. First, there are the historical relations between the US and the UK: the former rescued Britain twice during the two world wards, and was crucial for Britain during the cold war. Second, the US has a political commitment to the building of a strong European Union. Third, the economic interests of the US are going to be influenced by a Brexit. Let us now turn to the political significance of Obama’s visit. Despite registering the fury of the Leave front, which knows that Obama’s intervention will hurt its case, Bagehot on The Economist considers his comments food for thought. From his point of view, the Remain camp should take Obama’s optimism as an example and argue that staying in the EU will magnify Britain for there are good reasons to think that the country is best-placed to lead Europe. Jonathan Freedland, on the Guardian, focuses on a different aspect by showing that Obama’s intervention exposes the weakness of the Leave campaign, centred on the idea that Britain’s natural habitat is not the EU, but the Anglosphere. Leave supporters have now to face the fact that the US have no intention of forming some new, closer relationship with a Brexited Britain. In general, as the Editorial Board of the Guardian writes, Obama’s intervention has reinforced the pro-EU side’s idea that Brexit should be avoided because of the economic uncertainty and geopolitical instability it might bring about. However, some key issues seem to be missing from the debate on Brexit. First, as Simon Hix writes on Politico.eu, it is crucial to understand whether remaining in the EU after the referendum would isolate Britain, and whether the British government would have no possibility to influence the regulatory standards of the EU market, if the country were to leave the Union. From Hix’s point of view, either way UK’s future is going to be difficult, and British government and political elites will have to engage seriously with EU politics. Second, as Giles Fraser argues on the Guardian, a neglected issue within the debate concerns the fact that farmers are going to be heavily affected by a Brexit, given the budget devoted by the EU to them. Indeed, there is little awareness that the EU has become a huge and largely invisible way of redistributing wealth from the poor to the rich.

How to deal with the refugee crisis

The refugee crisis is far from over. As Jean-Marie Guéhenno writes on Politico.eu, it is generally overlooked that the causes of the exodus we are seeing are due to the deadly conflicts in the Middle East, and to the breakdown of the international system. In this scenario, it is Europe that must face the crisis, sustained by its values and its aspiration for political solidarity. Of course, the refugee crisis is not only a European problem. Rather, it is a global phenomenon. And the EU should lead not only in tackling the actual emergency, but also in addressing the sources of the crisis. A more prominent role of the EU with respect to the war in Syria is advocated by Frederic C. Hof on EuObserver, where he argues that European political leaders should work to build a transatlantic policy plan, including the evaluation of military steps apt to mitigate the mass murder of civilians. Syrians are also on Barbara Spinelli’s mind, when she outlines, on OpenDemocracy, ten critical points regarding the recent migration pact proposed by Matteo Renzi to Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk. From her point of view, the agreement with Turkey is unjust, given Erdogan’s repatriating of the refugees. Moreover, the way in which the EU is dealing with the crisis is turning into a disintegration of the Schengen area, and there is not a concrete and realistic proposal concerning EU foreign policy.

EU narrative

Ian Bancroft, on OpenDemocracy, writes that there is something troublesome with EU’s narrative. If the Union has long proposed and defended a narrative of “Europe as a saviour” (providing peace in the old continent), nowadays things are different. Many envisage a “Europe of sorrow”, a source of frustrated hopes and shattered dreams, which feeds Euroscepticism and Eurosceptic politics. However, Bancroft argues, Euroscepticism is particularly difficult to defeat if the only response to it is the assertion that Europe’s problems can simply be overcome by “more Europe”. A federalist Europe cannot just be advocated for nonchalantly and invoked as a panacea for all sins. To provide counterarguments against Euroscepticism, a new narrative is needed, a narrative that can provide an image of Europe as a saviour for the contemporary challenges it faces.


This Ideas Monitor is by Giulia Bistagnino and Carlo Burelli


Photo Credits CC: Number 10


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