According to European mainstream media sources, Great Britain (GB) leaving the European Union (EU) is nothing less than a catastrophe. Experts warn us about the Brexit being the beginning of the fall of the European Project. Populists from all over Europe celebrate Nigel Farrage and his national party for showing the middle finger to the clerks of Brussels. Does the Brexit mark the opening of an era of renationalization and disintegration in Europe?
On the one hand one could answer this question with a straight Yes. Long before the announcement of Britain starting a referendum about leaving the EU Right Winged National Parties and populists have become stronger and stronger. It is a European wide phenomenon. Be it Austria, where nationalist party FPÖ recently has almost been able to put the president in charge. It was a really close call and the case is still debated because of the party’s doubts towards the accuracy of the election. Or German AFD, which gets good election results off-hand with rhetoric that presents shooting on refugees at the borders as a solution to the refugee situation. Or take the case of the French National Front, which is looking forward to Election Day, because of Francois Hollande being the most unpopular President that France ever had. Or Orban in Hungary, Kaczynski in Poland, Wilders in the Netherlands, you name them. All of them have in common to be against a further deepening of the European idea. So does that mean a 1:0 for those who want to see the EU burn? I would be patient about that.
On the other hand there is a big difference between rhetoric and political responsibility. I’m not too sure if those, who shout out for a Frexit, a Czexit or an Auxit today, do really wish their countries to leave the EU that soon. GB is a precedent and a strong country in comparison to other members of the EU. Wouldn’t it make more sense from their perspective to sit down, relax and watch GB getting on or not? There are important questions to be answered. How is the EU going to treat GB? Probably bare-knuckled. What will Scotland’s and Northern Ireland’s reactions be like? What will happen if it comes to new elections? And if Farrage and UKIP win, how are they able to bring in their words into action? Being confronted with the harsh and mean reality of modern politics loudmouths can easily return silent.
And there is another point worth to mention. Maybe Brexit marks a line of restoration concerning the political interest of young people – not just in Britain. If it’s true, what a recently published table shows and the decision to leave the EU was especially forced by the elderly, GB can expect some serious riots. Then we will see who is angrier - the old ones who fear their wealth and the loss of British nostalgia or the young people who fear their futures because of a lack of job mobility.
The Brexit is there and now we have to deal with it. It’s not said that it will come to a phase of renationalization or even to the breakdown of the EU. But there is something to learn about the case. In the future it shouldn’t be possible anymore to get votes for mentioning that the EU is only there for regulating the shape and length of cucumbers. In a lot of the cases the EU is what the nation-states want. So I see only one solution to the problem concerning the spread of misinformation about the work of the European institutions: political education. The EU is not perfect. The idea behind it is: a unified and peaceful Europe.
Timothy Unger University of Wurzburg (Munich, Germany)