Roberto Savio | 27 JUNE, 2016
ROME: The Europeans went to bed Thursday night, with exit polls giving a comfortable margin of victory for those who wanted to Remain. The following morning they awakened to find that the real result was the opposite.
Specialists in polling say that this happens when electors do not feel comfortable to say how they will rally voters because they are not comfortable, on a rational level, with what they will do. In other words, voters act because of their guts, not because of their brain.
Brexit was really based on gut feelings. It was a campaign of fear. The “Leave” campaign was about the Turks massively invading Great Britain, because of their admittance in the EU (totally false); that Great Britain was paying to the EU 50 million pounds a day (again, a false figure). But the central question raised, especially by Boris Johnson, was: we are not free any longer… Let us get our independence.
And he went to compare the EU to the Nazi Germany who wanted to take over Europe. Of course, his intention was simple: get prime minister David Cameron to resign and take his post. A good example of idealism.
This cry for independence stirred the nationalist nerve of the nostalgia of the imperial times… We are facing enormous tides of foreigners coming if we stay in the EU, and we have no control on our borders, etc. The fact that Great Britain in fact had got from the EU already the control of its frontiers, was totally lost.
But beside this specific trait of British identity, the reasons for Brexit were common to the xenophobic, nationalism and populism tide which is spreading all over Europe. The Brexit campaign did contain all three, plus an emerging fourth factor: the revolt of people against their elites.
The “Remain” campaign had all of them; from the leaders of the Tory and Labour party to all the industrial and financial sectors, from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to the European Central Bank, from Obama to Merkel, from the elite media (Financial Times, the Economist) to the Soccer League. Their campaign was also of fear: if we get out we will lose markets, our deficit will increase, and our welfare system is at risk.
What now finally analysts are beginning to grasp is that rational arguments are not important any longer. Fear is more important. And anything that smacks of elite and establishment creates an iconoclastic reaction, which is to throw away the icons of the elite. This call for a change is now a new factor of politics all over Europe.
A good example is the town of Turin, where a few days before the Brexit a honest, efficient and respected outgoing mayor Piero Fassino (who did a good job), lost to a young woman without any prior experience. People feel an urge to throw away all the old, because clearly it has failed to address their needs.
It is to soon to predict a dismembering of Great Britain, with Scotland calling this time for its independence. Brexit was decided by England, where a considerable number of citizens suddenly feel a reawakening of their identity.
It is the same call of Marie Le Pen in France (another lost empire), which has opened a debate about French identity, and the need to not get diluted by multiculturalism, immigrants, especially Muslim, and get again the control of the borders, out from the domination of the European Union.
Next year, we have French and German elections. Le Pen is now the leader of the largest party in France, And it will be difficult to keep her out of power. Then elections in Germany will see a rise of Alternative fur Deutschland (AFD), which makes re-appropriation of German identity and sovereignty the basis for leaving Europe.
All the xenophobic right wing parties have expressed their enthusiasm for the Brexit, which is going to give them more push. Brexit comes after the Austrian elections, where the right wing lost for few votes. If elections were held today in the Netherlands, its xenophobic party would be the largest. And in total symmetry, Donald Trump has expressed his enthusiasm for the Brexit.
One of the few positive elements of Brexit is that there is now a growing chorus on the fact that globalisation has not kept its promises.: wealth for everybody.
On the contrary, it has created a dramatic social inequality, with few people having the bulk of national wealth, and many left out. According to OECD statistics, Europe has lost 18 millions of middle class citizens, in the last 10 years.
The fact that bankers were unanimously voicing for “Remain”, had quite the opposite effect on those 27% of British citizens who have difficulty to reach the end of the month, while they see over 1.000 bankers, and 1.500 CEO make more than 1 million pounds a year.
Now even the IMF is publishing studies on how social inequality is a draw to growth, and the importance of investing in welfare policies of inclusion and equal opportunities.
This is happening, some could say, because reaction to globalisation does not create only right-wing waves. With the feeling that all those in the system are ignoring their problems, new mass movements are coming from the left, like Podemos in Spain or Bernie Sanders in the US.
In the coming elections in Spain, the traditional social democrat party, PSOE, risks to be after Podemos. In Italy few days ago, after winning the provincial elections, the 5 Star movement now looks to take over the national government, held by a social democrat party, the PD. After two years in power, the young Matteo Renzi looks already an old establishment figure.
The EU suffers the same problem. Everybody talks of its marginal role in the world, of the fact that the unelected bureaucrats in Brussels live detached from reality and dedicate themselves to discuss rules on how to pack tomatoes, indifferent to the problems of the common European citizen.
We should pause to reflect that this is the same kind of criticism we hear about the United Nations. International organisations can only do what their members allow them to do. The EU is a supranational organisation (the only in existence), yet all the political power is in the hands of the Council of Ministers, where governments sits and take decision.
The Commission is left to implement these and the bureaucrats (the same number of those who run the town of Rome), have autonomy to decide the size of tomato packaging. Then the same national government that has taken the decisions, finds it convenient to denounce the EU inefficiency, and complain that there is an European external policy. This irresponsible game is now seeing the concrete result in Brexit, and governments should think now carefully about continuing on this double standard path.
Anyhow, the king now is finally without clothes. Europe is disintegrating, and a very large responsibility falls on German shoulders.
Germany has been blocking any attempt to create European economic and welfare measures, because they do not want to pay for the mistakes of the debtors countries, Greece, Italy, and the south of Europe. The Economy minister of Germany, Wolfgang Schauble, even went to attribute to Mario Draghi, the BCE governor, 50% of the success of the xenophobe Alternative fur Deutschland in the last elections. Draghi , was doing a policy in the interest of Europe, and not of the German voters. Germany is by far the most powerful country in the EU.
It is ironic to know that all the important posts in the EU bureaucracy have been taken by the British and Germans. In fact, those who control the bureaucracy and the debate on tomato packaging come from those two countries. And chancellor Angela Merkel is considered the one who runs the EU. In fact, the fateful agreement with Turkey on refugees, was decided by the German chancellor, without even consulting France
Now Germany has to decide: or continue on its path to germanize Europe, or to become again a European Germany, as it was when it’s capital was Bonn. Germany has consistently ignored all European and international calls for playing a different policy in the EU. She has refused to increase spending, to share funding of any initiative on European bonds or any measure of socialisation of the crisis.
But it would be a mistake to think that this is due to the peculiar personality traits of Schauble. The large majority of German citizens share the belief that they should not pay for the mistake of others. To be fair, the German government has never tried to educate them on European needs. And now, may be it is too late….
Therefore, the coming elections will be difficult for the government. An ever more insular party, the AfD is expected to have a large increase, and the two traditional parties are very worried. Merkel will try to take away some of the AfD banners further reducing her European policy. What is she Going to do now after the Brexit?
Attempt to start a Europe on two speeds, with Baltic countries, Poland, Hungary and all other Eurosceptics left out? Or she is ready to change her self-centred policy and play a real European role, in spite of AfD rise? Europe now depends clearly on Germany. Here we will see if Merkel is a states-person or just a successful national politician.
(Roberto Savio, is founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.)