Sunday, June 26, 2016

Could Brexit be a blessing in disguise for Europe, or its doom?
Europe's worse nightmare became a reality, after last Thursday's British EU referendum result; one of the block's oldest members has voted to leave the union.

With 51.9% of the votes, the United Kingdom will be leaving the EU by 2019. Many EU officials and politicians have called for a quick "divorce," to avoid damaging long term Europe's economy by dragging the negotiations for too long.

The outcome was expected. For many years, not just Britain but all of the continent's governments were allowing populism to thrive. They failed dealing with the economic crisis quickly enough and in addition, they made serious mistakes when responding to the Syrian refugee crisis.

They forgot that populism always wins. It is easier for people to understand an argument about issues that affect them directly, in the plain language that demagogue Far Right or Far Left politicians were using.

Instead of this, national governments were continuously scapegoating the EU for all that was wrong in their economies. They have purposely avoided explaining to their citizens how the block works and what benefits it offers.

And that simply to engage in political games, with aim to gain an upper hand in their country's internal politics, while perpetuating their rule and power. They ignored the interests of the ordinary people and deliberately allowed them to be misinformed for years, to serve local elites. 

They never wished for the EU and its institutions to replace them in the hearts and minds of the voters. Why would they after all? They preferred citizens to trust them when it came to dealing with issues that were of concern and keep voting for them.

But it was not the EU that failed the citizens during the economic or the refugee crisis.Its institutions did not have much say on how each state would deal with the amount of people pouring from the Middle East. 

In each case, it was the national governments that decided which policy they would follow, opening the borders like Germany or Sweden, or hermetically closing them like Slovakia and Hungary to refugees. It was our own rulers who were delaying the process and hindering a quicker response to the problem.

Additionally, it was not the EU that followed disastrous economic policies for decades, leading to the economic crisis which affects millions of Europeans now. Each national government has either decided alone or in agreement with its EU partners and the block's institutions and laws, which they have accepted and voted for, on their financial policies. 

Where the EU is largely at fault, is that they remained too detached from the citizens for decades. It mainly focused on the financial nature of the union, while it did little to remain relevant in the citizens' every day expectations and problems.

In addition, it responded in a very technocratic- often arrogant- manner to the financial crisis, ignoring the warnings or voices of analysts with a different approach. 

They acted with absolute disregard to the ordinary peoples' needs while they were quick to appease European banks. Thus proceeding with disastrous austerity policies, in the case of states like Greece.

As result, the EU became the poster-child of the euro-zone crisis even though it was not entirely its fault. it comes to Britain itself, its political leadership allowed for decades wealthy populist con-men to brainwash and misinform people through media, misrepresenting the reality on the country's EU membership.

On that, most recent British politicians are to be blamed not just David Cameron. They allowed the bubblegum of "Britain is Great and we pay too much in Europe" to go on for years.

Maintaining this arrogance and nationalism among the political elite and the people, resulted in the populist politics bursting at their faces in the recent referendum.

Subsequently we witness an extraordinary set of developments, as an aftermath. David Cameron himself announced his resignation by October. The Labour Party is in turmoil facing a number of resignations, while Scotland and Northern Ireland expressed their intentions of looking into ways to leave the UK altogether.

The Scottish in particular, which voted for staying in the EU are causing the most ripples. The country's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, hinted at how undemocratic it would be for Scotland to be dragged out of the European Union, after having voted by 62% to remain.

Mrs Sturgeon has appeared to suggest that the Scottish Parliament could block Britain's exit from the EU, or it could hold a second referendum to leave the centuries old union with the rest of the Kingdom. Could this be the end of the Europe and Britain as we know it?

In a worse case scenario if the UK leaves the EU, we could see the dissolution of the country and Scotland and N. Ireland rejoining the block in time. Yet Britain's departure could cause negative side effects throughout the continent.

Most European Far Right leaders, like France's Marine Le Pen and Holland's Geert Wilders have hailed the British referendum outcome, hinting that they will try to achieve the same for their own countries.

If they succeed, we will have the dissolution of the EU, a work in progress since WW2 and the most admirable achievement of Europe. The economic, social and political chaos that will follow, should scare any reasonable person in this continent. 

Additionally we could see the return and rise of fascism, nationalism, xenophobia and extremism in Europe, in forms that we haven't experienced since the end of the last big war.

On a more positive tone, it will never come to this. If Britain eventually leaves the union, it will most likely join EEA/EFTA, thus not much will change. But it will take a lot of negotiations and political skill from their part, to convince the rest of Europe to accept them as a member of these blocks. 

As the remaining European powers will most likely want to make an example of the UK and punish it, in order to forbid other Euro-skeptic nations attempting something similar. Just as they humiliated Greece so that other member states could hastened reforms, Britain could pay a high price in order to punish all these states who also might want out. 

Another positive outcome from this referendum, could be that the rest of Europe may proceed with further integration now. Britain was always the most vocal member state advocating against such development and since now is on its way out, pro-European and federalist powers could finally achieve their goal.

If of course others don't decide to leave. Britain has a lot of allies and close partners in the union. Sweden, Denmark and Ireland, all joined the block because Britain did initially. 

The case of Ireland is particularly interesting. The small nation shares close economic ties, plus the only land borders with the United Kingdom. What will happen to it when Britain leaves? While the Irish are pro-European and most likely to integrate themselves further in EU by joining the Schengen Agreement now that Britain is out, things could go the other way too.

If the Germans and the French are not careful and push too hard for fast and uncompromising federalization of Europe, they could hurt Ireland's economy even further. Because the country is closely relying on Britain, with a Brexit it will become one of the worse affected nations in the EU.

If the Franco-Germans corner the small nation to abolish its corporate taxation system and harmonize it with the rest of Europe, they could also push the Irish out of the union and in the hands of the British-Americans out of desperation. 

These are of course scenarios, as there are many who believe that the UK won't have to leave the EU after all. 

British Labour MP David Lammy has called on Westminster to "stop this madness" and to vote against the referendum decision to leave the EU. He claims that the the referendum was an"advisory, non-binding referendum."

"We can stop this madness and bring this nightmare to an end through a vote in Parliament. Our sovereign Parliament needs to now vote on whether we should exit the EU."
(The Independent)

In addition there is a petition which has already gathered over 3 million votes, calling for a second referendum. Could the above developments indicate that the British citizens and leadership do not really want to leave the EU?

Is all this fiasco with the referendum an effort to expose, silence and finally eliminate Britain's Euro-skeptics? They have been blocking their country's further integration into the union, plus the EU's progress in a fully fledged functioning federation.

Could their victory become their end? It is debatable if they have the skills to lead Britain and navigate it out of the mess they brought the country in. If there is any chance of getting rid of them for good, it could well be to seemingly get their way, fail and disappear for good.

If the UK leaves the union, then forced to rejoin due to the extreme economic penalties it could face, it will then be forced to join both the Schengen Agreement and the euro-zone. Could this disastrous outcome become the Euro-skeptic's Pyrrhic victory, which could lead to a better EU and Europe? 

A reformed EU, that will be kick-started by Britain's departure and the need for further coherence in the remaining member states, could just be all that Europe needed all these years. The union has hit a wall; politically, financially and socially.

Could the outcome of the British referendum, actually be a blessing in disguise for both the UK and our continent? 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Brexit threat is seriously looming over Europe.
As the date of the British referendum on its EU membership approaches, the country finds itself evenly split while Europe holds its breath.

This will be the UK's most important decision in its modern history; it will not only impact the nation's future, but also that of the whole continent and even the global economy.

As result one would expect the British electorate to be looking at the wider picture, rather focusing on populist and nation centered arguments. But they do not.

The debate on the UK's EU membership is not new. Ever since I started blogging around 10 years ago, it has been brewing in the European bloggosphere and it was one of the most heated debates, together with the potential Turkish EU membership.

British Euro-skeptic bloggers have been long arguing about their country's EU membership contribution, immigration and loss of control over important decisions. In addition they were keen to convince their leaders to get Britain in a trade agreement with Europe, similar to that of Switzerland and Norway.

It was very hard to convince them about the difference between being a small rich country, yet with little voice or influence in the world like Switzerland and being one of the leading economies in Europe; just as Britain is.

The EEA/EFTA Agreements may seemingly offer unlimited freedom to conduct business with third countries. Yet when dealing with the EU, all EFTA/EEA nations must comply with numerous laws and legislation that they haven't even voted for.

The so called "fax-democracy," where a large bulk of the laws you must adopt as government come to you by fax from Brussels in order to remain part of the Free Trade Area, is not something the UK should be aspiring to.

A former pioneering outward looking nation, will potentially cut ties with its own backyard in order to create new ones with its former colonies and emerging economies. 

And that desperate act is caused mainly by the one sided mentality, questioning who pays more in the EU budget. It is true that the UK contributes more than most other countries. But it is, just like Germany and France, one of the main long term beneficiaries from their membership.

Most multinational companies and banks have settled in the UK because of its EU membership, to access the world's biggest market. They have transformed the country in the economic powerhouse that it is today.

Britain's economy is not an industrial one any longer; it is based on exporting services, predominately financial ones and mainly to the rest of Europe. Why would anyone reinstate regulations and laws that have been abolished in order to make the exportation of these services easier, to seek trade with former colonies?

Besides will these nations be willing to accept British economic influence and dominance as before, now that the world is transforming to a more multi-polar diverse global economy?

 Let's face it. The Western economies, including Europe and Britain have been declining in terms of wealth and power over the past decades, while new economic blocks have been emerging. 

Is it wise for Britain to leave its cradle now, while it should be integrating totally with the rest of Europe, leading, transforming and even dominating it.

Why hand over the EU to the Germans or the French, while the British could and should be fighting to stay in and taking over.
Not that the arguments that the Leave campaign supporters are putting forward, are invalid or irrelevant. They are simply rather European issues, not strictly British.

Sadly the EU has been focusing for decades now on its financial nature, rather trying to remain relevant to its citizens, their needs or aspirations. There are few true direct benefits that we citizens get out of our country's EU membership. 

The freedom of movement, to be able to travel, work, study and trade anywhere in the continent are the most obvious. But in times of an economic downturn, in a very unequal economically continent, with austerity and unemployment affecting all countries, it is hard to convince citizens to look at the bigger picture.

Populism, nationalism, xenophobia and extremist radical political ideas take hold and it is easier to manipulate public opinion; just as it has been happening not only in Britain, but the whole of Europe for the past decade.

Particularly in the UK,populism and Euro-skeptic propaganda reached to such level, that we are now potentially faced with the departure of one of the EU's oldest members and main economic power engines. 

Could this lead to the block's disintegration, if other countries chose to leave or join an outer, less integrated European club?

The debate in Britain now is so heated that something unthinkable happened last week. For the first time after many decades in Europe, we had a politically motivated assassination. 

Jo Cox, a Labour Party MP as well a pro-European, was shot and stabbed in her constituency of Yorkshire, northern England. (MarketWatch)

The killing, for which a 52-year-old local man has been charged, caused the suspension of referendum hostilities for three days, depriving the Brexiteers of much-needed momentum, affording the Remain camp an equally needed emotional rallying point and ensuring that the final stages of the struggle will be far more low-key and even-tempered.

All this, together with a general wave of revulsion about the killing and the view that the alleged murderer (who gave his name in court as “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain”) was a home-grown right-wing political extremist. (

The incident and its significance might have been watered down by the media, in order to keep the public calm and not incite further divisions or violence. Yet we can not ignore the fact that such episodes usually happen in countries that the UK was so critical of, regarding their political systems. 

It is truly worrying to witness it in the UK, which used to be a beacon of liberalism and modernity in Europe. If Right wing radicals have moved on from killing Leftist supporters like the case of Breivik in Norway, to killing elected MPs and prominent politicians, what does the future hold for British and European politics?

From my experience during the Irish referendums on the Lisbon Treaty, it is hard to convince the electorate to vote for something that they do not understand and you have difficulties explaining in plain language. 

It is even harder to convince them, when all business and political leaders insist on a YES vote, simply because "it is good for the country." While populist, opportunist political personas debate in simple terminology and about problems that directly concern the voters.

In reality, no matter the outcome of the referendum we must realize that this is a battle between different elite groups in UK. One has interests outside, the other has interests remaining in the EU. They have invested in their cause, or their businesses are losing out by being in.

Sadly, all they need is our "approval" which in nothing more than an endorsement of their interests, to make it seem more "democratic" and compatible with the values they have incited in us. 

The U.K. will be fine both in and out the EU after all. The issue that we as citizens must be focusing on, is what kind of Britain, Europe and world we want to leave for our future generations.

Shall we give in to nationalism, protectionism, xenophobia and reverse all that we have achieved all these decades? Or shall we continue in our efforts in creating a more equal Europe?

Not that our continent is perfect at the moment; far from it. But European unification was always a work in progress and there are many issues still to be dealt with, in order to make a better continent.

Europe should become a beacon of human rights, equality and prosperity that could lead by example and help other regions overcoming their problems. It is also in our interests as citizens to want to achieve this goal.

If you are worried about "immigrants coming over and taking your jobs," then I am afraid there is not better solution to this problem than encouraging financial prosperity elsewhere in Europe and the world.

And that can only happen by sharing resources and knowledge, fair trade, regional integration and continuous cooperation between the future integrated economic blocks across the globe. 

You will not have your interests served by perpetuating the current unequal economic system, that creates poverty elsewhere abroad.

Should a YES vote is passed in the UK, we could get a chance that if managed properly by our leaders, it could send a message to the rest of the world. 

That Europeans do not give in to populism and nationalism, that we have our views set differently for our future. That Europe should remain united working for equality and prosperity and that other regions should follow its example.

If a NO vote is passed, then other countries may follow Britain's lead and Europe will return to protectionism, nationalism and borders. And the chance for any constructive change forward will be lost for our continent.