The Europeans went to bed Thursday night, with exit polls giving a comfortable margin of victory for the Remain. The following morning they awaked to find out that the result was the opposite.
Specialist in polling say that this happens when electors do not feel comfortable to say how they will really vote, because they are not comfortable, on rational level, with their decision. In other words, voters act with their guts, not with their brain.
Brexit was really based on gut feelings. It was a campaign of fear. The “Leave” campaign was about the Turks massively invading Great Britain, because of their admittance in the EU (totally false); that Great Britain was paying to the EU 50 millions of pounds a day (again, a false figure), but the central question raised, especially by Boris Johnson, was: we are not free any longer. Let us get our independence. And he went to compare the EU to the Nazi Germany who wanted to take over Europe. Of course, his intention was simple: get Cameron to resign and take his place. A good example of idealism.
This cry for independence stirred the nationalist nerve of the nostalgia of the imperial times. We are facing enormous tides of foreigners coming if we stay in the EU, and we have no control on our borders, etc. The fact that GB had already received from the EU control over its frontiers, went totally ignored.
But beside this specific trait of British identity, the reasons for Brexit were common to the xenophobic, nationalism and populism tide which is spreading all over Europe. The Brexit campaign did contain all three, plus an emerging fourth factor: the revolt of people against their elites. The “Remain” campaign had all of them; from the leaders of the Tory and Labour party., to all the industrial and financial sector, from the International Monetary Fund, to the ECB, from Obama to Merkel, from the elite media ( Financial Times, Economist) to the Soccer League. Their campaign was also of fear: if we get out we will lose markets, our deficit will increase, and our welfare system is at risk.
What now finally analysts are beginning to grasp is that rational arguments are not important any longer. Fear is more important. And anything that smacks of elite and establishment creates an iconoclastic reaction, which is to throw away the icons of the elite. This call for a change is now a new factor of politics all over Europe. A good example is the town of Turin, where few days before the Brexit a honest, efficient and respected outgoing mayor Piero Fassino (who did a good job), lost to a young girl without any prior experience. People feel an urge to throw away all the old, because clearly it has failed to address their needs.
It is too soon to predict a dismembering of the United Kingdom, with Scotland calling this time for its independence. Brexit was decided by England, where a considerable number of citizens suddenly feel a reawakening of their identity. It is the same call of Le Pen in France (another lost empire), which has opened a debate about French identity, and the need not to get diluted by multiculturalism, immigrants, especially Muslim, and get again the control of the borders, out from the domination of the European Union.
Next year, we have French and German elections. Marie Le Pen is now leading the largest party in France, it will be difficult to keep her out of power. Then elections in Germany will see a rise of Alternative fur Deutschland, which makes the return of German identity and sovereignty the basis for leaving Europe. All the xenophobic right wing parties have expressed their enthusiasm for the Brexit, which is going to give them more push. Brexit comes after the Austrian elections, where the right wing lost for few votes. If elections were held today in Nederland, its xenophobic party would be the largest. And in total symmetry, Donald Trump has expressed his enthusiasm for the Brexit.
One of the few positive elements of Brexit is that there is now a growing chorus on the fact that globalization has not kept its promises: wealth for everybody. On the contrary, it has created a dramatic social inequality, with few people having the bulk of national wealth, and many left out. According to OECD statistics, Europe has lost 18 millions of middle class citizens, in the last 10 years. The fact that bankers were unanimously voicing for “Remain”, had quite the opposite effect on those 27% of British citizens who have difficulty to reach the end of the month, while they see over 1.000 bankers, and 1.500 CEO make more than 1 million pound a year. Now even the IMF is publishing studies on how social inequality is a draw to growth, and the importance of investing in welfare policies of inclusion and equal opportunities.
This is happening, some could say, because reaction to globalization does not create only right-wing waves. With the feeling that all those in the system are ignoring their problems, new mass movements are coming from the left, like Podemos in Spain or Sanders in the US.
In the coming elections in Spain, the traditional social democrat party, PSOE, risks to be after Podemos. In Italy few days ago, after winning the provincial elections, the 5 Star movement now looks to take over the national government, held by a social democrat party, the PD. After two years in power, the young Matteo Renzi looks already an old establishment figure.
Maybe it will also become clear that the EU suffers the same problem. Everybody talks of its marginal role in the world, of the fact that the unelected bureaucrats in Brussels live detached from reality, and dedicate themselves to discuss rules on how to pack tomatoes, indifferent to the problems of European citizen. We should pause to reflect that this is the same kind of criticism we hear about the United Nations. International organizations can only do what their members allow them to do. The EU is a supranational organization (the only in existence), yet all the political power is in the hand of the Council of Ministers, where governments seats and take decision. The commission is left to implement them, and the bureaucrats (the same number of those who run the town of Rome), have autonomy to decide the size of tomatoes packing. Then the same national government that has taken the decisions, finds convenient to denounce the EU inefficiency, and complain that there is European external policy. This irresponsible game is now having in Brexit a concrete result, and governments should think now carefully about continuing on this double standard path.
Anyhow, the king now is finally naked. Europe is disintegrating, and a very large responsibility falls on German shoulders. Germany has been blocking any attempt to create European economic and welfare measures, because they do not want to pay the mistakes of the debtors countries, Greece, Italy, and the south of Europe. The Economy’s minister of Germany, Schäuble, event went to attribute to the BCE governor Draghi 50% of the success of the xenophobe Alternative fur Deutschland in the last elections. Draghi , was doing a policy in the interest of Europe, and not of the German voters. Germany is by far the most powerful country in the EU. It is ironic to know that all the important posts in the UE bureaucracy, have been taking by British and Germans. In fact, those who control the bureaucracy and the debate on tomato’s packing come from those two countries. And Merkel is considered the one who runs the EU. In fact, the fateful agreement with Erdogan on refugees, was decided by the German chancellor, without even consulting France
Now Germany has to decide: or continue on its path to germanise Europe, or to become again an European Germany, as it was when the capital was Bonn. Germany has consistently ignored all European and international calls for playing a different policy in the EU. She has refused to increase spending, to share funding of any initiative on European bonds or any measure of socialisation of the crisis. But it would be a mistake to think that this is due to the peculiar personality of Schäuble. The large majority of German citizens share the belief that they should not pay for other’s mistake. To be fair, the German government has never tried to educate them on European needs. And now, maybe it is too late….
Therefore, the coming elections will be difficult for the government. An ever more insular party, the AfD is expected to have a large increase, and the two traditional parties are very worried. Merkel will try to take away some of the AfD banners further reducing her European policy. What she is going now to do after the Brexit? Attempt to start a Europe at two speed, with Baltic countries, Poland, Hungary and all other Euro-sceptic left out? Or she is ready to change her self-centred policy and play a real European role, in spite of Afd rise? Europe now depends clearly from Germany…. Here we will see if Merkel is a statesman or just a successful national politician…