June 24, 2016
A European model that relies only on the generation and expansion of a multilingual cosmopolitan elite, with no perceived benefits for the national masses, is doomed to failure. Here is what we should learn from Brexit. and what we should do next.
The people of the United Kingdom voted in favour of leaving the European Union. The direct economic effects will be probably small and mostly concentrated in the large British cities, especially London. On the political side, the G7, the United Nations, the NATO alliance and many other international treaties will keep the UK side by side with the other European partners in taking key global decisions. Yet, the real problem for the now 27 countries union is the political contagion. Will France hold a similar referendum? We must learn an important lesson to avoid a disruptive cascading effect.
Learn from Your Enemies
The European Common Market is primarily an economic policy measure. Such enhanced free-trade agreement goes deep into national legislations and disrupts local markets for goods and services, labour and capital. Like any other economic policy, benefits and costs of the European Common Market (and of the Eurozone) are not equally distributed among the population.
Not only European market integration does not benefit all citizens equally, but its effects can be easily mixed up with confounding factors. Have British manufacturing workers lost their job because of the competition of Chinese or German firms? Are people struggling to find a new job because of the post-crisis economic weakness or because of Polish immigrants? Certainly, a substantial part of the European population – in and out the Eurozone – received little benefits from the European economic model of the last three decades. The anti-Europe faction was very good in targeting and politically energising this group of people.
Eurosceptic politicians often say that the European project went too far and is putting British, German, French and Italian people against each other. Any intellectually honest observer would agree that normal citizens only complain about the lack of jobs and the worsening economic and life conditions. Eurosceptic politicians instead are responsible for making the European Union a scapegoat. These politicians work day and night to promote a view that links people’s hardship to the European Union, immigrants and even imaginary evil powers (global capitalists and secret societies such as the Bilderberg group). Even if innate anti-Europe feeling existed, it is definitely the responsibility of Eurosceptic political organizations to make them so widespread. They work hard to amplify and spread anti-European sentiments among the population.
On the other side, the pro-Europe activists have been instead unable to exploit the same social mechanisms and feelings to boost the support for the European project. Pro-Europeans are mostly acting defensively and this makes them weaker and weaker over time. The work of honest pro-Europeans is sabotaged daily by those national politicians that also tend to use the EU as a scapegoat to minimize the impact of their failures and boost domestic support. National media are generally unable to make any sort of genuine pro-European propaganda because they are used to put the national interest first.
In a Bloomberg editorial, Mark Gilbert highlights the main lesson we should learn from the UK referendum. The campaign mistake was:
using scaremongering rather than accentuating the positive. The EU needs to start emphasizing the benefits of membership — otherwise the U.K. will be just the first nation to decide that the privileges of membership aren’t worth the subscription fees.
I find urgent to follow Gilbert’s advice. A European model that relies only on the generation and expansion of a multilingual cosmopolitan elite, with no perceived benefits for the national masses, is doomed to failure. How? Clearly, the Erasmus program is not sufficient to save the European Union.
A Step Forward
We must not wait for uncertain future economic growth to solve our problems. In fact, the process of European integration will inevitably worsen economic conditions in some regions within the EU, especially in the South. That is simple economics 101. Therefore, it is priority for the European Union to target these areas with EU-branded set of public investment and welfare measures. The EU should bypass the member states when it comes to public intervention in support of the economic conditions of European citizens. People in need should perceive the direct support of EU institutions. One example is the idea of a European Unemployment Benefit Scheme, which is also important as a macroeconomic stabilizer of the Eurozone unbalances.
If such types of interventions were regarded as extreme or unrealistic, we should just sit down and wait for the worst to happen.