Beyond the BREXIT Brawl: A Stronger UK @ A United Europe

Today, in London, the Guardian Newspaper will hold an important event entitled “BREXIT: What would happen if Britain left the EU”? Coming on the heels of the EU Referendum bill and the controversy over Prime Minister David Cameron’s demand that all his ministers fall in line behind the Government’s position, this initial public debate on the UK’s role in the EU takes on particular importance. Cutting through the rhetoric that will inevitably engulf us from all sides requires us to come to terms with three critical points that must inform our vote on this crucial matter for all our futures.
First, the United Kingdom cannot, in practice, “leave” the European Union. Although the ideas of “sovereignty” and “independence” still remain the mantras of many UK lawyers and politicians, in reality, these concepts have lost their former meanings. Connexity is now the new game in town. Europe – and North America – have prospered over the past seven decades because they have developed, together, a new way to govern themselves, where different political tasks are performed at different levels of governance – where they can be dealt with most effectively and efficiently. Defense has no longer been national since 1948 and the creation of NATO; it is now part of a trans-Atlantic level of governance that will soon include the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement that is currently negotiated between NAFTA and the EU. Major economic and social decisions are coordinated at the European level – starting with the 1947 Marshall Plan and continuing with the 1957 Treaty of Rome that gave birth to the EEC, and then today’s EU. Meanwhile, cultural and national issues are increasingly addressed at lower levels than that of the traditional nation-state, as the UK itself has had to acknowledge with its regional devolution of powers to its four constituent nations. ‘Independence’ now means little more than isolation and irrelevance. What counts is having knowledge, access and presence at each of these levels of governance: local, national, regional, European, trans-Atlantic, and of course global. If the UK abandoned its seat at the EU decision-making table, it would remain just as much part of this emerging system of multi-level governance – but would lose its ‘voice’- power and influence – in shaping this system’s nature, structure, and future. As Kenneth Clarke himself acknowledged today, it would also embolden Scotland to sever its remaining constitutional ties with the UK in favor of re-joining the EU, as one among many medium-sized nations with a full seat and voice in all EU and trans-Atlantic decision-making forums the UK would have chosen to abandon. An isolated, weakened, diminished UK that would remain part of Europe but would no longer be a critical actor in shaping its future – this is what would happen if we would vote “Yes” to the referendum question on whether the UK should leave the EU.
Second, Europe’s system of government is no longer working for the benefit and with the consent of its citizens. Neither the European Council, nor the European Commission, nor even the European Parliament can confer to it the democratic legitimacy it desperately needs for the creation of a truly pan-European public sphere, spanning but not subsuming all national ones. The reason for these decision-making and democracy gaps are very simple: the refusal of national politicians to allow power and responsibility to flow both upwards and downwards within this developing multi-level governance system, and their desperate attempts to keep it concentrated in their own hands, in order to preserve their national-based positions of privilege, their perks, and their powers. The same politicians who argued no long ago that a Scotland remaining within the United Kingdom would render its citizens more prosperous and secure, now argue that the UK would be better off leaving the UK in order to preserve its 800-year old freedoms enshrined in the Magna Carta. The incoherence of this argument is painfully obvious for all those who wish to examine it more closely: the BREXIT proponents refuse to envisage any significant reforms of the way we govern ourselves in the 21st century, as opposed to the 13th, if this means redistributing power and privileges both upwards towards supranational, and downwards towards national and local levels of government. Preserving a monopoly of power in their own hands is the BREXIT supporters’ key aim – not freedom, prosperity, and participation for the citizens they represent.
Third, a vote to remain in the EU cannot, must not mean a vote to remain in this EU. The European Project needs drastic reform: it must become more open, more democratic, and more responsive to its citizens’ needs. In other words, it must become the exact opposite of what David Cameron wants it to be -a meeting club for the current leaders of its existing Member States, where they can make decisions by trading and haggling behind closed doors, with no accountability to or participation by the citizens they claim to represent. True to form, Cameron wants to go back to the Magna Carta system of weak feudal monarchs and powerful local barons, and transmute it to the European level of governance. We, his “subjects”, will have little voice, influence and power in such a system. This is the Europe of the past. Is it not the Europe of the future.
Stronger United: A Stronger UK @ A United Europe proposes a different path to reform – leading to an empowered, dynamic, prosperous, peaceful continent belonging to all its citizens, and not just to its entrenched national elites. It argues in favor of a multi-level system of governance where each decision-making level is legitimated democratically – by free and fair elections; where each nation can preserve and celebrate it history and culture; where all citizens feel they share a common destiny and are animated by a common solidarity and vision for the future; and where prosperity and equality of opportunity is a birth right for all, rather than just a privilege for some. The BREXIT debate being initiated today by The Guardian is the ideal place to start this critical discussion about our common future – moving away from the cheap rhetoric of both the easy “Yes” and “No” slogans, and sharply focused on those stark realities and clear choices of the 21st Century that we cannot escape or outrun - but can master and direct, to create a future worth living in for us all.