British Prime Minister David Cameron is playing with Europe and with his Country. It’s a strange political behaviour that of a leader who claims that he wants to remain inside the European Union while launching – in the name of an erroneous interpretation of democracy – a popular consultation on such a complex issue, entrusted to a sole option and a sole answer: Yes or No. Cameron has thus exposed his party to unprecedented divisions, while the Country is torn apart. Resorting to a referendum always entails great risks, for this tool does not constitute authentic expression of democracy unless the subject at stake is simple, of easy comprehension, enabling all citizens to develop their personal opinions. How can the majority of British citizens be fully aware of the political and economic consequences that would help them understand whether the good of the Country lies inside or outside the EU?
It’s what happened in France in 2005, when the question involved the project of a European Constitution to be decided with a popular referendum: hundreds of articles that required a yes or a no. Another example: past April 6 Dutch citizens rejected a petition for an agreement between Ukraine and the EU. The turnout at the polls was less than 30%, yet 60% cast a “no” vote! Were the voters truly aware of the articulate, complex implications of their decisions? – decisions whose consequences are yet unknown, imposed by a small minority of the constituency… The referendum per se – not only the one to be held in Britain on June 23 – paves the way to emotional interferences, to the temptation to vote not on the questions raised but against or in favour of the government that organized the public consultation; to demagogy and populist stances; it leaves little room for serene, in-depth reflection, and to the knowledge of the issue at stake.
The ongoing election campaign in the UK highlights this aspect of the crisis in democracy, which is also a European crisis.
A European crisis? In fact, after 60 years of Community construction, our European citizens no longer see the positive aspects of this project, namely peace, economic development, the free movement of goods and people (let us consider the Erasmus effect on universities). Today the debate focuses only on the negative aspects of institutions’ performance (without distinguishing between national powers and those that lie within the provinces of the EU), on their inability to address contemporary challenges – from economic and financial questions to the reception of migrants – along with the question of defence against acts of terrorism. Europe is following an anti-unity trend, closed in upon herself, marked by the return of nationalisms. Europe is under the threat of populist and nationalistic drives, and with it also European humanism. Against this backdrop the possibility of Great Britain’s exit from the “common home” represents a serious danger.
For two sets of reasons. First, the timing of the referendum on the so-called “Brexit” is unpropitious, from the economic and the social and political angles alike. In particular, Europe is facing not only internal economic and social difficulties but also – and especially – a refugee crisis, and a war caused and fuelled by Islamism. This war has attacked London, Madrid, Paris, Brussels, as well as Moscow and Istanbul, it strikes against Africa’s and Europe’s allies. The international situation is dangerous. Social, financial, economic balances are unstable. A Brexit would trigger a new tempest that would benefit nationalistic and extremist drives throughout Europe, which are already rather consistent.
The second set of reasons is linked to the contribution that the United Kingdom has always given to Europe,
Starting from the Christianization of the continent by English and Irish monarchs, to the role of the human person in society; human rights (the Bill of Rights dates back to 1689), parliamentary democracy, liberalism, without forgetting the heroic resistance to Nazism. Indeed, there is no shortage of jokes about a nation that is not truly European, whose glance is extended towards the Atlantic rather than to the mainland, especially in France, where hostile stereotypes against the British abound. But the UK’s separation from the European Union would be an abandonment involving the risk of a drift for all, for the British and the Europeans alike. Europe without the United Kingdom would be less European. We should remember the enthusiasm at the news of Britain’s adhesion to the European Economic Community on January 1st 1973. At the time it was thought that Europe would be unable to continue along the path of unity without the UK. Today, 43 years later, how could the opposite stand be true?