The Road to Brexit

Benjamin Fox, on EuObserver, notices that there is a huge contrast between the kinds of people who want the UK to stay in the EU and those who support Brexit. The two groups are clearly divided with respect to age, political leaning and education: voters who are young, highly educated and belong to the AB social class are in favour of EU membership, whereas those who are old, clerical, blue-collar and unemployed back Brexit. This fact highlights the strong polarization within the UK and the difficulties that will inevitably stem from the referendum, whatever its outcome will be. An important issue at the heart of the referendum concerns the problem of sovereignty. As Robin Niblett writes on Chatham House, on this point the debate is misguided for not only the British government still determines the vast majority of policy, but also controls more than 98% of its public expenditure. Another line of argument that is often referred to by Brexit supporters regards economic independence for manufacturing sectors and businesses. However, as Adrian Harris writes on EurActiv, not only the UK greatly benefits from being in the EU, but it is also in its interest to continue being influential with respect to EU’s core policy and regulatory agenda, which would be difficult in the case of a Brexit. However, as Peter Mandelson observes on the Guardian, economic arguments are less and less used by the Leave front, in favour of discourses against immigration. This is due to the little economic credibility leave campaigners retain and it might turn into a boost for the Remain side because economics can trump immigration as the decisive consideration for most voters. Although it is difficult to predict the results of the referendum and its consequences, there are several lessons that the UK could learn from Ireland’s EU referendum campaigns, says Gavin Barrett on EUROPP. In particular, it should be clear that winning referendums is difficult and managing referendum debates is problematic; that referendum turnouts vary, but are normally lower than in general elections; that the broadcast and written media don’t help much; and that one referendum may lead to another by having a direct impact upon integration within the UK.

Free Movement

That of free movement is one of the core values of the EU, and it plays a special role in the difficult balance between the national and the supranational level. But why do we need a national level? Why do we need borders at all? These are the questions posed by Chris Gillian on OpenDemocracy. From his point of view, the refugee crisis is demanding Europeans to develop a human-centred, cosmopolitan, border-free world. Such ideal may currently appear utopian and unrealistic, in particular if the Turkey situation is considered. As The Economist notes, the proposal of waiving visas for such country is simply the price the EU needs to pay to keep irregular migrants away, and may trigger serious problems with respect to cooperation and control with the other European neighbours. Natalie Nougayrède, on the Guardian, argues that to re-connect with the idea of Europe built on free movement we need to think as Europeans, by overcoming the fact that politics is still nation-based. However, to achieve that objective, we also need to change the idea that EU mobile workers are foreign workers who should not be entitled to the same social rights as local workers, as David Rinaldi writes on Social Europe.


Social rights are crucial also for Esther Lynch who claims, on Social Europe, that trade union rights in the EU are in danger and urges political forces to press for a “Social Progress Protocol” apt to secure them. Such political commitment may not only help with European solidarity and integration, but also against Euroscepticism. Though representing a concern for the whole Union, it is a fact that European countries differ in terms of Eurosceptic public opinion. Margarete Scherer, on EUROPP, argues that this phenomenon can be explained in part by referring to religious traditions and backgrounds: there is a considerably higher prevalence of Euroscepticism in traditionally Protestant countries than in traditionally Catholic ones. The roots of this phenomenon lie in the fact that the Reformation was born as a vigorous protest against the church, and nowadays in such countries the EU is perceived as a sort of Holy Roman Empire, namely a bureaucratic, autonomy-destroyer monster.

Focus on Italy

In the last weeks there has been a vivid interest in Italy and its Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi. First, Italy has gained attention because of its proposal for dealing with the refugee crisis. Moreover, as Walter Mayr writes on Der Spiegel International, Italy is particularly under pressure and it is shifting the attention by pushing the EU to offer African countries funding and cooperation to help solving their problems. From Renzi’s point of view, Africa needs to be the long-term priority of the EU. Lately, Renzi has attempted to play an important role in the agenda setting of the EU. As Lorenzo Piccoli writes on EUROPP, he has been trying to make the EU more flexible and to counterweight the German leadership of Angela Merkel. It’s hard to predict whether he will succeed, but to do so – Alvise Armellini argues on EuObserver – Renzi first needs to win the referendum battle on the constitutional reform he proposed to the Italian population and which will take place next October. Despite such difficulties, it seems that there is space for Italy to play a more important and assertive role at the European level, in particular if Brexit occurs, as Francesco Giavazzi claims on the Corriere della Sera. Indeed, if the UK will leave the Union, Milan and Italy may become more influential in financial terms.

This Ideas Monitor is by Giulia Bistagnino and Carlo Burelli

Photo Credits CC:fra

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