Who is responsible for Brexit?

Tim Parks, on The New York Times, claims that the EU had it coming. Besides the many recent crises, the Union’s greatest failing is that after decades of regulations of every possible kind it has not brought the nations of the Continent closer together. Trapped in the idealism of the founding fathers, Europe is simply unable to complete the transition it has set for itself. On the contrary, on Opendemocracy, Stein Ringen and Alina Rocha Menocal argue that the responsibility for the Brexit calamity is fully of Mr. Cameron personally. This gamble, a spur-of the-moment decision with no analysis of consequences and no plan, was a colossal mistake strategically, morally and politically. His short sighted self-interest, where political ambition takes precedence over longer term horizons, is a testament to the failures of Britain’s exclusive and personalised ruling system. Antonio Lettieri, on Europp, argues that it is too convenient to blame the result of the referendum on British exceptionalism: the historic and ideological aversion to building a European community of states. Instead, Brexit reflects a refusal to be subjected to the control of the EU’s bureaucracy, which is devoid of popular legitimacy and is democratically unaccountable. On this point, Der Spiegel interviews the presidents of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, and the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. Reflecting on the issue of the responsibility for Brexit, they do not believe European institutions are at fault. Rather, responsibility lies in Britain’s historical indecisiveness on its partnership with the EU, and, more recently, on Cameron, who indicted the referendum in order to secure his post. Moreover, they lament the fact that Member states blame the Commission for everything they cannot agree upon. And this undermines popular support for the EU, for internal political reasons. Admitting the responsibility of both the UK and the EU, Robin Niblett claims, on Chathamhouse, that a positive compromise will only emerge if it is rooted in a better understanding of each other’s concerns and is built on a greater sense of empathy than currently exists on either side.

A New Beginning?

The Economist argues that with Britain stumbling towards the exit, Angela Merkel is required to give the European Union a new shape. However, while German social democrats proposed an ambitious charter for “refounding Europe”, Merkel did not take a clear position, though her party believes that this is not the time for new visions, and that the EU must pick few big problems and prove to its disenchanted citizens that it can solve them instead. Pierre Calame, on Opendemocracy, endorses a similar idea of a European foundational assembly. The very first goal of governance is to establish a community to ensure that its peoples acknowledge a common future, collective values and a sense of kinship. This is different from a constitutional assembly, since it needs to create a community, not just to give political form to an already existing social structure. On the UK part, Daniel Moylan claims on Conservativehome that the referendum mandate is clear and the UK needs to invoke Article 50 quickly, and get on with a new trading relationship. However, it would be pointless to negotiate for restricting the free movement of people and mandatory budget contribution of the Norway model, thus the only practical alternative is to move to trade with the EU as a third party, similar to the world’s other great trading powers: to trade with and have access to the Single Market, but not to be part of it. On Euractiv, Philip Geddes adds that it is not necessary to invoke article 50, since it may be better to have the parliament repealing EU legislation in order to negotiate better terms.

Economic cleavage and the state of the left

On Europp, Eric Kaufmann contends that the cleavage revealed by the Brexit is a matter of identity and is explained by personal values, rather than by the economic divide. The order-openness divide is emerging as the key political cleavage, overshadowing the left-right economic dimension. Contrary to this view, on Social Europe, Craig Willy endorses the more conventional analysis that social inequality and divisions between classes, generations and regions were crucial in fostering anti-European sentiments among many Britons in the recent EU referendum. Thus, British social policies are in dire need of reform. Jean De Munck on Opendemocracy observes that the Left’s vocation is to orient collective investment towards the least advantaged in our societies by making choices that correct or complement private investments. However, this is currently impossible due to states’ huge public debt and their weakening by global capitalism. This leads to a deadly dilemma, between “government Left”, pragmatic yet compromising and “activist Left”, idealist but vain. Dick Pels on Social Europe adds that vilifying the populists as fascists and racists, and their voters as deluded and stupid, is pointless. The successes of the Right are the failures of the Left. To restore social democracy’s mission of realizing redistributive justice what is needed is more principled resistance against neoliberal austerity, and willingness to concede economic sovereignty for transnational solidarity. The Economist explains that the European Commission is trying to reduce the gap between national workers, and “posted workers”, that come from other European country. The proposal suggests harmonizing wages, by paying social insurance benefits in the country of work, rather than the country of origin. Supporters of this revisions say that posted workers are often exploited, yet many western European countries, and their trade unions, are worried less about the plight of eastern European workers than about competition for their own.


This Ideas Monitor is by Giulia Bistagnino and Carlo Burelli


Photo Credits CC: a2gemma 


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