After the Brexit Shock: Understanding and Generosity

Niccolò Milanese – Chair of European Alternatives

Much of Europe will be in shock today that Brexit is actually happening. Europe must come to a rapid understanding of the current situation, and in this two principles need absolutely to be kept in mind.

Firstly, the reasons that motivated a majority in the UK to vote out of the European Union are not unique to the United Kingdom. The geographical distribution of the ‘remain’ and ‘leave’ votes in the UK, as well as the demographics and education levels, make it very clear that people are reacting to growing inequality, disempowerment and alienation, feeling of loss of democracy, as well as fear of foreigners. These sentiments are just as strong, if not stronger, in other parts of the European Union. They need to be met by a profound rethink of European Union policies and institutions, which both need to become much closer to the people they should work for. The policies and institutions must be matched by a moral renaissance in Europe, which asserts that all forms of xenophobia and hate are unacceptable, that shows solidarity internally and at its borders and generosity in its dealings with the world.

It is likely to be wishful thinking to suppose those currently in power will have the awareness to bring about this change of their own volition. The current political elites have failed and are failing in their responsibilities to govern in the public good. We as European citizens have the responsibility of bringing about the change. That likely means changing who is in power, and constitutional change of the way that power if wielded. Both must start from organizing transnationally to reclaim the European project: we need urgently to unite all those individuals and organisations who recognize the status quo is crumbling, and that a more democratic, equal and just European Union is the only realistic escape from a return back to dark parts of the continent’s past.

Secondly, the European Union and all European countries must resist the temptation to punish the UKThere is an already audible temptation amongst the European decision makers to punish Britain for leaving the club. This would be an historic mistake. A powerful and bitter country resentful at its neighbours is potentially very dangerous, especially (as will be the case with the UK) if it is also undergoing profound internal constitutional change.  The possibility of leaving the European Union exists in the treaties, this must be respected. There should be no special deal for the UK, but there should be no especially harsh treatment either. This also is about learning from Europe’s history.


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