A new Europe after Brexit! …?

In haze of the wake of events following a Brexit that actually became real, there are a lot of thoughts floating around. Mostly, there are fears and questions, sure, but there is also a bit of hope out there – at least for some. Let’s have a look.

“At a certain point there are actions by states that defy rational analyses”, George Friedman notes in one of his recent books. But… do they really? Here are some thoughts that cross my mind at 08.30 am the morning after the Brexit vote actually happened.

First of all, it needs to be made clear that Cameron’s irresponsible politics caused Brexit in the first place. In the times of multiple crises for Europe, his shortsighted politics caused an even bigger turmoil. Quite frankly, this is only the cherry on the cake when it comes to European centre-right parties as most of their leaders’ and members push extremely narrow minded and preposterous solutions. But that’s another story.

One other thing is thing that crosses my mind is that mostly older people voted for Brexit. While I am used to Conservatives’ political inclinations by now, this age gap in political vision keeps being absolutely incomprehensible for me. Anyhow, of course in the end one could say that the old screwed the young, sure. But that’s only one side to it. Maybe one needs to see the inherent inspirational force of what has happened:
The anger of the young, which has been there for some time and now will have to be channeled into new political modes of expression, programs. If it holds true that the old screwed the young, then it is now their turn to challenge the old by creating progressive new movements, develop demands that confront their conservatism.
As Rousseau argued, reality isn’t elegant. It is filled with contradictions and small fragments of truth that oppose each other. Let’s free these contradictions and move beyond accusations. And… what may start in the English countryside could, should, spread over the rest of Europe as well.

As for that, also demands to leave the EU, to vote out, will now be spreading over Europe for sure. As the European Right wingers all over the continent now see their chance big time, the times ahead will be the big test for the European Left, even for the moderate movements in the centre(-Left). Certainly, any response from the Left cannot blindly embrace the EU now. It also needs to thoroughly question the distortion of European values. Also, that is another story.
The Right has achieved to create a climate where more campaign to leave the EU could become absolutely possible in France, the Netherlands, and several Eastern European countries. In the event of that taking place, the results might differ widely from Brexit though. In the end, not everyone shares the same kind of particularity as the British historically do.

As for some the world seems to be literally falling apart, there is only one thing that I am afraid of: that the progressive, intelligent, talented, aspiring people and forces in our European societies fall into a lethargy that immobilizes them. Now is there time to create, shape, form, build. It is the time to be brave and influential in shaping opinions that challenge the already stalled and fragmenting “EUropean” idea with its human rights paradigm crumbling at its borders and its vision of a peaceful Europe stalled somewhere between youth unemployment, securitization, not living up to its ideals in the refugee crisis and the faltering of Europe as a community linked to several member states’ crises (Greece only being the most prominent one as we have already forgotten Cyprus and so on and on. Again another story).

Of course I am sad that the British voted for leaving as I feel as a European like so many other younger people as well who grew into being European over the last two decades. But what I am actually sadder about is that in the self-proclaimed enlightened 21st century it was possible to have such an unreflective and ill-informed Brexit campaign in the first place. Anyone who calls this democracy clearly has no idea. This campaign was a mere populist festival dominated by nostalgia and hyperbole in which the British citizen has been taken for a fool. That’s also nothing new. But every single time, it is so sad to see that what we call democracy is not about content at all. It is about greedy ideologues securing their interests and grabbing for power.

But, and here is the rather good news, as the old “EUrope” will most probably slowly weather away now, there will be room for something new. Instead of retreating into our national shells, it is now time to build a new Europe. A Europe that has been learning from its recent mistakes and historical negligences. I am well aware that it is a long shot but I am deeply convinced that this is the moment to do so. If the deployment of armed forces at the European borders to counter the refugees coming to Europe instead of properly adjusting our education, development, foreign and communal policies was the wake up call, Brexit actually means getting out of the comfy bed we imagine ourselves to be in.

Developing and articulating new impulses surely is a tough nut to crack. But it is not impossible. Most importantly the Left all over Europe must seize the moment and push their demands and solutions onto the front pages and out into the public. For them it is time to develop a truly agonistic approach to democracy in order to create constructive antagonism instead of false appeasement and consensus with the Right and the Conservatives, as we have seen taking place more and more recently. Instead of worrying about remaining or leaving the EU, member states now should start rethinking about their concepts of community and even humanity (when it comes to the disgusting foreign policies of the EU and its member states). Domestically, this means that the fears and worries of the lower income classes (can one still speak of those?) need to be put on center stage again. Especially the elite has failed them and as Benjamin Ramm rightly notes, this now caused a massive blowback for them too.

What will be most delicate after the Brexit vote will be the handling of the inner-British nationalist tension that has been created. While most of England and Wales voted for Brexit, most of Northern Irish and Scottish voters expressed their wish to stay in the EU. Given the nationalist and violent history between Northern Ireland-Scotland and the rest of the UK, there is quite a high propensity that nationalist agendas will become even more prominent than they already are. Already, there are demands that the EU should let Scotland stay. How this and more of that sort will translate into actually policies will be one of the most explosive aspects of the Brexit. Just a couple of days ago, talking to young Scots, they made it very clear to me that if Brexit actually happens they will try to renew their bid for independence once more. I reckon these young, open minded, liberal European Scots must be furious now.

There is one thing that makes me uneasy when thinking of the challenges ahead, especially with one eye on the UK: that while people might fear more instability, or simply a climate worse than the current one, their answer might be violent to a certain degree. If Brexit was a truly democratic vote – even if the term democracy is distorted in this regard -, then the answer also needs to be genuinely democratic. The status quo that has now, yesterday to be precise, been created has to be challenged by political farsightedness and maybe a breeze of utopia.

Then, at the very end, there is one aspect that might not be thought about to the full in the current haze of events. It is the standing of the EU in the world. Even though the EU has already been losing credibility on the world stage for some time, its “attractiveness” will now be shattered into pieces and this will become most visible in the Western Balkans.
Against the controversial background of sustaining peace in the region by promoting a neoliberal European vision to their sometimes very questionable partners in the region, Brexit will now give a lot of ammunition to more radical oppositions all over the region. Imagine an EU Special Representative in Bosnia & Herzegovina now desperately trying to throw his weight into negotiations with Milorad Dodik. And that’s just one of many examples. On top of that, the EU will now most likely become too preoccupied with its own problems at this point to be actually able to deeply care about the Western Balkans. Also, this is just one example. There are a couple of other areas where the EU might have gambled away its last bits and pieces of credibility on the world stage by losing the UK.

What now? Thinking without a banister!

Hannah Arendt already knew that every hope carries a certain amount of fear. But I guess also the opposite holds true.
Against the background of all the considerations above (and a lot more), it is now time to develop a thorough critique of what Europe has become. And by this I mean in terms of its own sake and as an actor in the world. This critique has to be contextualized and intense, differentiated and deliberative, controversial and detailed all at the same time. While the time for shallow answers is gone, a space to asking questions and express concerns has to be created. Something like a European Forum that is not occupied with rich youngsters who see it as a free ticket to express their exclusive cosmopolitanism. It will need to one where a rebooting of European and democratic values can take place and where a young European identity that connects across gender, nationality, race, religion and class can flourish. Where one can discuss beyond fences, nationality, black and white, phobias and hysteria.

Critique is an ignition spark for something new. Paul Winter, Shabka

What is currently happening is a true revolution full of conflicting interests. It is a challenge for European societies and to a certain extent also to something I would call a global society, especially among the young. We need to set impulses specifically to rethink our foreign, education, development and social policies. We need to resolve the existing and new dynamic tensions that are being created in a constructive way. Seen from that perspective, Brexit can be a chance for the rest of the EU.
We should start by being a bit more honest to ourselves. To a huge extent, rethinking Europe is an historic process that should also question modern Europe by its historic deeds. As Richard Schuberth argued, we have to progress by widening the treetop, not by retreating back to our (often imagined) roots – since, in the words of FDR, we have nothing to fear but fear itself. For that we need orientate through a vast array of different contradicting explanations. But the extreme case sometimes makes it easier to see clearly, to clean our thoughts in order to see through the foggy webs of the contemporary political mainstream.

For the young in Europe, it’s time to work together and challenge the shortsighted- and shallowness of the Conservatives and start creating a Europe that lives up to the standards it sets.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on telegram
Share on whatsapp
Share on pocket

More from Shabka Journal

Veranstaltungsreihe Demokratie unter Druck

Die aktuellen Herausforderungen zwingen uns aber Begrifflichkeiten und Denkweisen auseinander zu dividieren, um daraufhin die wichtige Frage zu stellen: Was bedroht Demokratie? Was bedeutet liberal und was angemessen? Viele antidemokratische