by Professor Alessandra Silveira, Editor
Every cloud has a silver lining. On the referendum able to push forward the unity of the Europe and the disunity of the Kingdom
Modern democracy, with which the West has lived since the liberal revolutions, is representative – exceptionally accompanied by moments of semi-direct democracy through referenda or popular consultations. Such exceptionality is based on the very survival of democracy as referenda hardly ever manage to escape high doses of manipulation and abuse. When Hans Kelsen was asked once about the rightfulness of popular consultation, he allegedly answered that, despite they make sense in certain situations, it should not be forgotten that an uninformed population preferred Barabbas over Jesus Christ. This metaphor illustrates one of the main assumptions of the democratic theory (which no one described as brilliantly as Norberto Bobbio): the excess of democracy may kill it.
This becomes crystal clear in the referenda (supposedly) on European issues, tendentiously instrumentalized by national political elites that convert them in arenas to internal disputes. The day the world awaked in astonishment with the results of the British referendum, the top questions at the social networks and search engines in the United Kingdom on the European Union since the Brexit result was officially announced were: “What is the European Union? What does it mean to leave the European Union?” That reveals that many British have voted without really knowing what the EU is or what it stands for in their daily life.
And so 17 million British, deceived by the most despicable demagogy, decided about the destinies of 500 million European, subverting the most elementary democratic rule of a polity – the one of majority will. They did so openly for the worst reasons – fear, hostility, xenophobia, all wrapped in the sovereignty narrative –, offering weapons for the Leftist and Rightist populisms all over Europe to wield a speech against the Brussels’ technocracy. The same technocracy that will stop paying grants to British agriculturists, that will cease supporting research in the British universities, that will discontinue the stimulation for the movement of British Erasmus students, that will interrupt law-making towards promoting equality and non-discrimination among the British.
If there is not yet a more robust deliberation space at the European level, it is because the political elites of Member States have never wanted it. National political parties avoid debating European themes because they are unpopular – and what parties want is to win elections! Therefore, it is not convenient to admit the existence of supranational counterparts to the voter as he/she does not need to know and discuss what happens in Brussels and intervene in that debate. The democratic deficit speech became too easy because it helps the national political-parties elites to dis-account for the outcome of the Union. However, the Union is not made by extra-terrestrials! Our national representatives occupy the seats – at the Parliament, the Council and the Commission (as this depends on the approval from both) – and what goes wrong in Europe is, no doubts, of their responsibility.
Anyway, it is important to ask why an ancestral and solid democracy as the British was let into this puerility by politicians who manifestly did not have a plan B, did not calculate the irresponsible consequences of their hubris and try desperately to buy some time in order to arrange a damage control solution for the catastrophe. Well, the elderly who voted for leaving the European Union (18-24: 75% remain; 25-49: 56% remain; 50-64: 44% remain; 65+: 39% remain) understandably resents the effects of economic globalization in their life conditions. Yet, it was left out the explanation that the EU is not the cause, but the solution in this equation. United Europe, even though remains as the largest economy in the world, represents only 20% of the wealth produced in the planet as a considerable portion of it was moved over the last years to emerging markets. In 20 years none of the Member States of the European Union alone will be on the list of the 7 largest economies of the world. There is no way to answer singly the global demands – as simple as that. That is the reason why the few European states which are not part of the European Union (for instance, Norway and Switzerland) establish association agreements with it through which they contribute more in percentages to the Union’s budget than the UK and accept the burden of enforcing the EU legislation without even taking part in its making, something intolerable for Brexit voters in the name of a reported “independence”.
The alternative the British chose is an incognita – for them, for the Union and for the world economy. There is no record of secession in modern federative systems – and the European Union, it should be noted to the distracted ones, works as a federative system since the Schuman Declaration. In any case, nothing will be like before. Hence it is relevant to rethink the European integration, reinventing its objectives and investing in the deepening of federative elements of the system, through a more complex fusion between the competences and instruments (national and European) because life in the European Union has to be different from the pre-crises and pre-Brexit years. During those, it has become unbearable the growing asymmetry between the areas politically integrated and not integrated. And it all begins with the readjustment of the Economic and Monetary Union, whose genetic fault (that takes monetary and exchange sovereignty from the Member States and keeps its fiscal and financial sovereignty) fuels inequalities in the development and exposes more economic fragile Member States to financial speculation.
The deepening of economic integration, due to the originally financial crisis, i) leads to political convergence in the EU – to the development of a political Union –, and ii) questions the relation between national politics and European politics, provoking changes in the balance of federative powers in the Union. This demands an effort on the purpose of foreseeing a vision of the future of the political Union for if it is not the path we can agree on, it will be the one that the brute force imposes – as Jean Monnet taught. Every cloud has a silver lining.
Picture credits: Brexit, by succo.