Brexit as Opportunity

For decades, the countries that have joined and formed part of the European Community and then the EU have had their self-concept changed and perhaps enlarged…contributing to this, at the individual level, the increasing cheapness and ease of travel has led to cultural trickle-down (and -across). e.g a retired working class Briton of 2nd generation Rumanian extraction has a holiday home in Portugal… (and will never vote Tory again!).

For some, this has been a win-win: a whole new territory opened up to go adventuring in, bringing back habits and ways of surviving that evolved at different latitudes, seasoned under the same sun from a slightly different angle. Different but equal, the stiffness of national identity blurring in this cultural multiverse… a slow-dawning realisation of the communion of souls, of the universality of human experience.

For others, this has meant a rock-solid guarantee of a certain form of democracy, after decades of dictatorship -and official confirmation of emigration as the solution to unemployment.

For yet others, that same guarantee of democracy and the chance to leave behind a hated identity- and gain ample markets.

For these countries, an exit from the EU would feel very different.

You are also what you are not — and entry into the EC ,in these cases,meant ‘not-fascism’.

Massive but gradual changes on many levels: cross-fertilisation of music, food, attitudes to life, work and the family; the same historic events lived from other angles. New families formed across national boundaries.

You are also what you are not- and the EU, for some, means ‘not-racism’.

You only know what you’ve got when it’s gone.

But the people of the UK have not voted to leave behind everything that they have learned, all that they have lived and become through these shared decades. There is a strong sense of that nascent community, a will to maintain these bonds- a strong urge to deny the possibility of them breaking.

These human bonds were not made with institutions but emerged through lived experience. They won’t be broken by Brexit. They are a humanity thing and have no need for official permission.

Many have, however, voted against the institutions and the economic ethos of the EU; more so against the impossibility (presumed an inevitability) that is the single currency and ‘ever closer union’. Against the EU acting as a lightning rod for discontent, tag-teaming with national governments to misdirect the voters. Against an EU that cannot permit, nor conceive of, effective cross-border trade union action and so is structurally incapable of doing other than to continue balancing the books on the backs of the worst off- it’s just that those suffering will be far away, or disseminated across the entire area, or constantly on the move, and hence will not attract the solidarity and activism that eventually emerges at national level. An EU whose worst nightmare is precisely a cohesive European identity at the level of the people.

And what is the European identity that is currently under threat? Is this what it boils down to?

From the outside, the EU is a place you die trying to get to… from this point of view, becoming European is an Odyssey, or a heroic mission.

And from the inside?

Are the bureaucratic/economic structures and strictures enough to act as a holding bay while a positive European identity gradually emerges, one Erasmus couple at a time? Is it even possible to agree to be European when there is already talk of a 2 speed (at least) Europe? Europeans of 1st and 2nd class?

As Juncker recently said of the the EU parliament “You are ridiculous!”so where is the European electorate, and where the sense of duty to it?

The EU institutions need to be remade to give a greater role to the people and their organisations, unless ‘the European identity’ is to be defined as the universal ‘someone who hates the EU’.

Any European identity must include the formation of the pro-active citizen and the study of the historical struggles of European peoples. What did they fight for, what against? What do they need and want?

The European institutions, on the other hand, now need to be recast outside the historical framing influence of the post-WW2/Marshall Plan/Cold War dynamic. The fear of intra-EU redistributive policy needs to go, along with the pernicious stereotyping- the only way that Europe can continue to be a home to the generosity of spirit of its people is if it stops stigmatising and punishing them for not being e.g German enough.·

The leaving of the UK (in particular) should serve to clarify matters…after all, you are also what you are not. The UK does not share the recent common experience of invasion or war on its territory, nor dictatorship, with the other countries of the EU, so can’t really comprehend this trade-off, this need for compromise and tolerance.

If there is the will to attempt a functional European Union — with independent foreign and trade policy, a respectful non-extractive relationship with ex-colonies (, and acceptance of the need for labour to have a greater voice in the economy- now is the chance. This is the moment.

People in the UK, too, will find the focus they need to make up their minds about what sort of country they actually want to live in (a neighbour of Europe, or an outpost of the US; a pirate nation or the mother of parliaments; tolerant and outgoing or shrunk by angst;contributor to the world economy or speculator against it) and then debate, campaign and vote to make that a reality, without ceding that responsibility to some notional better European other.