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BREXIT: the meaning of a vote

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The UK will Leave the European Union. The British vote can be analyzed from many perspectives, and will have implications on many issues at different levels of analysis.

From an historical point of view we may have witnessed the experiment of the political suicide of an entire state. The moment in which UK Leaves the European Union, it may start to stop being such a United Kingdom. In Scotland and Northern Ireland “Remain” has clearly prevailed. Scotland's Prime Minister has already declared the intention to call a new referendum for independence and to stay in the EU. Scotland would have a great interest to be considered as the successor state of the United Kingdom without having to open a complex negotiation process for adhesion. And together with Ireland it could attract many businesses who chose England as their base inside the single European market also for linguistic reasons. Brexit could lead to a return of violence in Northern Ireland, a particularly fragile environment. Sinn Fein already pointed out that the reunification of the island, within the EU framework, shall now be considered.

The UK had a huge political and economic interest in Remaining in the EU. All international organizations, think tanks, study centers, Nobel prize winners, highlighted the costs and the significant negative consequences of Brexit. Boris Johnson replied simply "trust me, they are wrong." Modernity was largely built on the faith in reason. In post-modernity reason seems to be mistrusted. But it would be wrong to think simply that prevailed the "belly" on the "head". It prevailed a "belly" educated for centuries by nationalism, imposing itself as a political culture and a dominant identity, which is no longer even perceived as "a" culture, but as a matter of course. The “Leave” campaign focused on (European) migrants – and after the referendum there were xenophobic attack versus Polish cultural centers - national pride and appeal to absolute sovereignty of a nineteenth-century fashion. It stressed the pulsion to the closure of society, the "us" versus all others, like in Britain "finest hour" in World War II. And in a warlike exaltation of "us" against others, those who think differently can end up being considered as traitor, as it happened to Labour MP Jo Cox, murdered by a right-wing pro-Leave militant.

Now David Cameron may go down in history as the last Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in its present composition: the man who may at once have began the destruction of the UK and of the EU. All victims of the increasingly dangerous interaction between national and European politics. To unite the Conservative Party before the general national elections - which he did not think to win – Cameron promised a referendum on Brexit. He thought his best chance was to govern with the Liberals that would prevent the referendum to take place. Instead, he won and had to call the Referendum, building on its own the stage on which he would be hanged. And after he despised the EU for years and negotiated a special deal for the UK, he suddenly realized the need to campaign for Remain, and to defend the EU, which he had used as a scapegoat for years. What a difficult task. Especially considering that the United Kingdom has always been a reluctant EU member. The UK joined because it was economically unbearable to stay out.

The EU receives a further blow to its credibility. After 66 years in which states have always and only asked to join, passing from 6 to 28, now a Member state decides to go out. This shows that many people increasingly perceive the EU as part of the problem rather than the solution. The EU is an unfinished project. It is not (yet?) a real federation, but it is already a multi-level system of government. It binds and constraints its Member states, but does not offer adequate federal policies. It is the only level of government to face the great challenges that we face - terrorism, security, stabilization of the neighborhood, economic revitalization, environmental challenge - but it does not have the powers and competences to cope with them in reality. Therefore it feeds expectations that are then frustrated by the facts.

But in practice with Brexit little changes. The United Kingdom was already out of almost everything with specific opting outs - from the single currency, the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the Justice and Home Affairs, and partly by Schengen. Essentially the UK was only participating to the single market. Just as Norway and Switzerland, which are outside the EU, but are obliged to respect the EU rules and to contribute to the EU budget. If the UK will ask to continue to participate in the single market, it will have to make a similar agreement. Instead of being more independent and autonomous, it will be less so, having to implement rules that will not contribute to write, and to contribute to the hated EU budget - which is a meager 0.9% of European GDP! In the first day of Brexit the London Stock Exchance capitalizaiton lost more than the British net contribution to the budget in its 43 years of Membership. The EU interest is to offer the United Kingdom an agreements similar, or worse, to that with Norway and Switzerland, to avoid creating incentives to other Member states to exit. Furthermore, the UK may soon be in the position of having to renegotiate trade agreements with the whole world from a position of weakness, since the EU agreement may no longer apply to the UK. The British people are likely to pay a very heavy price for their choice in economic terms. European citizens living in the UK will have some setbacks - at the end of the negotiations for the secession from the EU - and the same for British citizens in European countries.

The Member states less favorable to integration have now lost their leader and their position is paradoxically weakened by the success of Eurosceptics Farage and Johnson. The UKIP won his battle and lost its raison d'être, and is unlikely to survive as an independent force in the long run. For the Netherlands, Denmark, Hungary, Poland used to join forces behind the British leadership, but now it will be more difficult. The most pro-European states have lost their British alibi. They cannot say anymore "we want more integration but the UK prevents it". Renzi, Merkel and Hollande have often made great speeches on the "re-launch integration", on political union, on Spinelli's vision. Everyone says that the EU must be changed. Now they have an extraordinary window of opportunity to transform a crisis of rejection of this incomplete and imperfect Union, in the start of a process to reform it.

Soon we'll see if it will be the national governments or the main European supranational institutions to take the political initiative to respond to this crisis. The risk is that everyone quickly try to remove the problem and return to "business as usual". It would be the demonstration that in Europe there is no longer a political leadership able to take the initiative in this regard. And playing only on the defense of an unsatisfactory status quo would open the way to the affirmation of populism in many different countries. The process of crisis of modern European civilization - witnessed by the xenophobic, nationalist drives, including the murder of Jo Cox - would accelerate. Because in the global world only continent-wide states matter - such as the US, China, India, Russia - and the choice for Europe continues to be "unite or perish" as remembered, among others, by the British Lord Beveridge and Toynbee.


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