понедельник, 22 февраля 2016 г.

Brexit?

On 23 June the people of the United Kingdom will vote in a referendum on whether to leave the European Union. Should a majority vote in favour of this proposal, Britain's exit (the so-called 'Brexit') will be a major event for both Britain and the European Union.

Besides other considerations this move has dimensions related to internal British politics. Within the ruling conservative party there is a sizeable group of people in favour of leaving the EU and in offering a referendum (in much the same way as a referendum on voting reform was offered to the Liberal Democrat coalition partners) David Cameron is 'throwing a bone' to his political allies in the interest of retaining their support and unity. There is also an issue in respect of Scottish independence: Scotland as a whole and in particular SNP voters are much less in favour of leaving and the question of staying in the UK having been resolved in 2014, the Brexit (should it occur) could easily open up the question again.

I am a pro-European. By that I mean that I grew up in cosmopolitan Brussels and attended an international school where from a young age in the classroom and on the playground I was exposed to other languages and nationalities. As a result I learnt French, German and Italian, I can understand Dutch; only Portuguese remained beyond my grasp. Besides this, I also developed an enthusiasm for what has been called the European project. The project in its purest form involves forging a new European identity and seeking in united effort and new institutions to overcome all the shortcomings of nation-states.

However over time I began to see how the European project is perceived of as a panacea, overcoming not only the nationalist wars of the 20th century and achieving free trade, but also building a brave new world in terms of human rights (ever more broadly defined), social structures (eg redefining the family) and an essentially centralised political structure built around new political institutions such as the European parliament. It is too easy for all alternative views to be portrayed as parochial and xenophobic, but being pro-European cannot be equated with support for this particular European project. It is an open secret that that the European institutions suffer from a democratic deficit; anonymous officials are appointed to major roles without democratic legitimation. Also, the declared principle of subsidiarity doesn't seem to translate into disciplined devolution. While the EU is very supportive of regions striving for autonomy from existing nation-states, it seems at times that this serves only to undermine the EU's greatest competitors: the nation-states. Smaller, fledgling states are much more dependent on a strong Union than established nation-states such as Spain, France or the UK. And the European project has been hijacked by an agenda which rather than drawing on the heritage of Europe's Christian past went so far as to disqualify Italian Buttiglione from the European Commission because "his views on gays and women run contrary to those of the EU." Look up the term Gleichschaltung; it looks pretty similar to me.

When I left home at 18 I encountered another form of internationalism. It was something of a shock for me to encounter internationally minded, multi-lingual, cross-cultural people whose vision was broader than the continent of Europe. I began to see how Eurocentric I was. Over the past 20+ years I have discovered countries such as Russia, Turkey, China and Kyrgyzstan well outside the sphere of the European project and with vastly different cultures and values. From their perspective the European project looks very different. Inward-looking, defensive, self-important, expensive, unwieldy, bureaucratic and espousing a cultural imperialism veiled in the language of values and equality.

Unity and cooperation are good. But not always. The Jewish Tanakh (the Christian Old Testament) tells of an international project at the dawn of human history. The project was to build a tower to reach to the heavens; the aim was "to make a name for ourselves". It was only by divine intervention that this project was interrupted: the tower of Babel remains thankfully incomplete (viz. Rubens et al).

So what am I saying? I find myself, possibly for entirely different reasons, siding with those in Britain who favour a departure from the European Union. That doesn't mean that I have become anti-European. I still favour close trade links, cooperation, friendship. I favour the initial project for a European Economic Community, but not the unwieldly, bureaucratic, bossy monolith which the EU has become and is becoming. While controversial for some at the time, I have not heard much criticism recently of Britain's decision to stay out of the euro. And in the same away I think it best for us to leave the EU now. Norway, Switzerland - these aren't backward, xenophobic, parochial, non-European countries.

This is my rationale for why I think we should leave. It's okay for you to think differently. Pax. 

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