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Brexit: a nationalistic virus. Britain’s second thoughts and the future of the European Union

The referendum has led the United Kingdom – undergoing an identity crisis – to further isolation, while high numbers of citizens demand reconsidering the vote. In the meantime the wave of populism continues to spread from Austria to France, extending to Countries in central and Eastern Europe. The Community integration project has rationalism and the future on its side, but it requires also political and cultural mobilization

In times of crisis, there is a great temptation to join the front of the sceptics and the prophets of doom who interpret every critical event, every single difficulty, as proof of the fact that the whole venture is doomed to failure. According to these criteria, it has been repeatedly claimed that British citizens have decided to leave the EU for a feeling of malaise against Europe that is worming its way throughout the Continent, adumbrating the Union’s disintegration. Comparisons are also made with the increasing success of xenophobic political parties and movements opposed to integration in European countries.

However, at a closer glance, it appears clear that the Brexit vote is not necessarily the expression of a crisis involving the EU

Rather, it appears to be the result of an atavistic crisis involving British identity and the UK’s political system as a whole. An evidence of this fact is the great confusion amongst the Brits on the aftermath of the referendum result. Indeed, after the “pro-Brexit” vote, an existential lie supported by British politics for decades was suddenly unmasked. Cameron, Farage, Johnson and many of their predecessors and party colleagues have done nothing but denigrate the EU and the policy of unification, pretending that that all evil came from Brussels, and that the most important task of Westminster was to defend the homeland and its citizens, and protect them from Brussels’ bureaucratic monster.
 Britain’s special sensitivity vis a vis the European integration process, to which it contributed with wavering participation since the start, had little to do with euro-pessimism, euro-scepticism, and hostility against the unification project, typical of other Countries. Nationalism –despite the negative experiences that affected in different ways all European populations in the past century – is the only thing that Great Britain has in common with them, and it’s spreading again like a virus.

This time nationalism is fuelled by nation-States’ generalised loss of sovereignty

and by the illusion that their Countries and peoples would profit more from national policies that weren’t answerable to their neighbouring communities.
 The loss in sovereignty – albeit partial – is a necessary, constitutive aspect of EU membership, enshrined in the Treaties to which Member States are parties through free decision. They include binding regulations that are essential for the functioning of the EU.

The tangible loss in sovereignty, notably manifest in the common currency, is the reason underlying the fierce opposition of nationalistic parties that are up in arms against the euro.

They don’t want to admit – nor accept – that within the current framework of globalization, nation-States can develop and carry out their chores provided they share their sovereignty with neighbouring Countries. Citizens of central and Eastern European countries, which recovered their independence only a few years ago thereby joining the European unification project, must find it hard to follow this intuition. However, those Countries – along with Poland and Hungary –have not taken initiatives questioning EU membership. The bond between the recovered freedom and the fact of being a part of democratic Europe, i.e., the European Union, is felt very strongly.

In France, the Netherlands and Austria, as well as in Italy or in the Scandinavian countries, the European Union is held accountable for “homemade” problems leading to the success of populist, xenophobic and anti-European parties and movements, in spite of structural, cultural and social conditions, to the point that most of the people in these countries might be willing to get involved in the nationalist adventure. The example of the United Kingdom in this context reveals, inter alia, its intimidating effects. The European Union will benefit from the “Brexit” provided that Member Countries draw the right conclusions from that disaster and from the UK’s state of isolation determined by British politics.

On the basis of what has been achieved until now, there is a possibility of taking the first steps towards “an ever closer” union of European States and peoples,

as hoped for by the founding fathers 70 years ago. The venture of the unification of Europe, experiencing a long-standing crisis, is attacked not only by the usual euro-sceptics but also by nationalistic, xenophobic and nostalgic movements, and it deserves being defended. It has rationality and future on its side and it has already shown in the past that it has what it takes to overcome the crisis. This requires facing the roots causes of the crisis, mobilizing all those forces that can help overcome it, in cultural and political terms.

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