Now is the time of dislocation. Amid economic disaster, bureaucratic arrogance and disregard for social issues, the appeal of the European project has declined steadily in recent years. The accumulated centrifugal forces are now taking over. The United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union (EU) is the first step towards a dismemberment process of the Union that seems ever more likely -if not inevitable.
To the difficulties that this proto-state has already been struggling with now will be added the wave of economic and financial shock after the Brexit, the divisions on what attitude to maintain in its implementation and the conflicting interpretations on which new direction to follow: more or less Europe for those who remain? An alternative rhetoric that masks a real impasse: greater integration is absolutely impossible in a context where public opinion is increasingly mistrustful regarding the EU, but renouncing a leap towards integration will eliminate any chance to repair dysfunctional institutions... The trap of the democratic deficit closes in on the Europe of capital.
The vote in the UK is a class vote. The fists of those who lost 10% of their salaries since 2008 crashed on the figure of Prime Minister David Cameron and the business circles unanimous in their support for the EU. It is obvious that the vote was partly motivated by racist sentiments and that the extreme right has dominated the pro- exit camp . But the inability to articulate a pro-exit campaign of the left –beyond a few small groups such as the Socialist Worker Party or the occasional union organization– is a failure of the entire British left. In particular, this is a missed opportunity for the new leader of the Labour Party and historic Eurosceptic, Jeremy Corbyn, who contributed a bit in throwing the popular classes into the arms of his enemies.
This new electoral insurrection is a manifestation of a large-scale political realignment taking place in the western world: almost everywhere the extreme center (center-right as well as center-left) has encountered difficulties caused by forces or politically opposed personalities such as Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn, Podemos and Marine Le Pen. The European Union is the archetypal incarnation of the project of the extreme center. Almost at standstill in the 1970s, the continental integration shows no progress other than the slow sedimentation of the decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Union. Its revival in the 1980s, which led to the completion of the single market and the economic and monetary union, coincides with the assertion of neoliberal ideology and the hegemony of finance.
Product s of this brief historic sequence, the EU institutions bear the scars for good . Nearly perfect institutional embodiment of the Zeitgeist of the neoliberal era, the Union lacks the historical depth that would allow it to face the cycle of great turbulences triggered by the 2008 crisis and rearm for the new period. Deprived of all democratic roots, it lacks further legitimization procedures to reinvent itself. A place of compromise between "responsible" government partners, the EU is the ground of a large permanent coalition which has excluded any involvement of the people.
This continuity reduces further the national democratic lives to a masquerade as long as it prohibits by construction any possibility of substantially different social and economic policies. It is hardly surprising therefore that the Union has no more power of attraction for British citizens who remained in the margins.
After the French and Dutch referendums in 2005, the Irish of 2008 and the Greek of 2015, the vote in favor of Brexit confirms that the European hype is irrelevant. To align with it is deadly to the left; it is leaving the field wide open to the far right. As noted in a recent survey by the Pew Institute, the rejection of the EU is general. Adverse opinions are arch majority in Greece (71%) and France (61%) but also very high in Spain (49%) and Germany (48%). If one focuses solely on economic issues, they are a majority across the whole Union. Another interesting element, the EU's rejection is not monochromatic: mostly the right in northern Europe and rather the left in Southern Europe.
The European Union is not a battlefield . The left and the social movements have no significant position on this scale. Nowadays the hostility to the EU is the central battleground, where the left must defeat the xenophobic and authoritarian currents by articulating an internationalist class project.
First published in Contretemps on 25 June 2016
Translated from the original french: Evita Nolka for EReNSEP