Future of EU

Green Observatory: Brexit

The Green Observatory provides a round-up of perspectives on a current political issue from the Green European Journal’s partners around Europe. This first edition focuses its lens on Brexit: how is the referendum on UK membership being discussed in different countries? And what could be the potential consequences on the ground in the case of a vote to leave the EU?

Austria – Georg Maisser

How is the Brexit issue perceived in your country and in your Green party/movement?

The Austrian Greens regard the whole process of the British Prime Minister David Cameron as dangerous for the cohesion of the European project. Many Austrian politicians took the British propositions to legitimise their own nationalist agenda on free movement and on Austrian social benefits for employees from other European countries. The Conservative foreign minister Sebastian Kurz now openly supports a system of lower social benefits especially for Eastern European employees working in Austria, a demand formerly associated with the far-right. He is even joined by parts of the Social Democrats and unions, who are tempted to give in to nationalism and xenophobia by the huge popularity of the far-right among workers.

The Greens in Austria are very concerned about the growing acceptance of xenophobic positions within the political mainstream. But they also see the danger of further weakening the European Union as a whole. So many of the grave problems of our times, from climate change to migration, cannot be addressed on a national level.

While Austrian Greens insist that a deal with UK cannot be based on a “Europe à la carte” and that the core principles and values of the EU cannot be put in question, they also think that UK should stay within the European Union and help to solve our European and global problems on a European level.

What would a Brexit mean for the EU project? What repercussions do you envisage it might lead to in your country or region?

A Brexit would question the whole idea of European integration and the European project. It would become even more difficult to find solutions for all the difficult problems Europe is facing today.

Anti-European parties in Austria would consider a country leaving the European Union a big encouragement for their efforts. The idea of easy national solutions to the various complex crises is already very attractive in many different European countries. A Brexit would probably strengthen the idea of a European Union as a simple free trade zone amongst independent nation states. The Austrian Greens would expect that an agreement on a common European asylum-mechanism would become even less likely. Tragically, even if the UK stays in the EU, the damage is already done. Still, the Austrian Greens will continue to struggle for a democratic, social and ecological European Union.

What do the Brexit referendum and the campaigns taking place tell us about democracy in Europe and the future of solidarity in Europe?

The campaigns and the debate about the Brexit referendum show that narrowly-defined national interests are the driving forces in Europe. Right now, business interests are the clear priority of European and national policy makers. We are far away from a real European democracy. The principle of free movement is violated. Against this background people become increasingly sceptical about the European Union and further European integration. Euro-scepticism, anti-system movements and right wing populism continue to grow. At the same time the economic, social and cultural gap widens between northern and southern states. Social cohesion within the EU is at risk – not at least because of the economic situation but also concerning refugees.

The social dimension is the key element in order to regain the necessary support of the people for the EU. But the disparities and inequalities across Europe are growing. The Austrian Greens are not sure if the common European idea is strong enough to overcome this critical situation and move forward with renewed solidarity towards a more democratic, integrated Europe.

Belgium – Jonathan Piron

How is the Brexit issue perceived in your country and in your Green party/movement?

Belgium is a pioneer of the European project, and it has held a federalist position for some time. Although it would like strengthened relations with all Member States, Belgium continues to perceive the United Kingdom as a state that is less interested in the European project. History shows us that the country has always had a difficult relationship with the European Union. In any case it will remain difficult, whatever the outcome of the referendum. It is also important to stress that the arrangement between the European Union and the United Kingdom cannot improve the situation in Europe and it does not help in tackling important issues like social dumping and climate change.

However, we must look beyond this and view Brexit and the related debate in a different way. The debate triggered by the United Kingdom and the possibility of Brexit is perhaps no bad thing for Europeans who are losing hope of a European project closer to their political, economic, social and environmental expectations both in terms of domestic and foreign policy. We can take advantage of the situation to move beyond futile negativity to analyse Europe’s ills in more detail. Contrary to expert opinion, environmentalists should grasp the situation here and now in a cross-cutting and international way, and create an opportunity to build the Europe that we want.

What would a Brexit mean for the EU project? What repercussions do you envisage it might lead to in your country or region?

The debate about Brexit is by no means a debate about the European project – it is essentially a national debate between Cameron and the British. The debate has been hijacked if it is limited to England, with its agenda and priorities. Europeans will have to face the true underlying debate, which cannot be reduced to a “deal” with David Cameron. The issue of Brexit must be taken beyond the United Kingdom.

It is not so much a question of whether the United Kingdom leaves or remains, but rather in an underlying sense it relates to the issues debated and the reasons why the country might leave. If the British were seen to leave the Union for national reasons, becoming more inward-looking and taking an isolationist stance on an apparently stifling European project, this would be the worst signal to send to the rest of the citizens of Europe. This would be a tragic indication that the European Union is unable to overcome the limits of its identity, and thus to construct its own. This would also be a sign that Europe is not able to take conceive of long-term changes to respond to the fears and doubts of its citizens. The repercussions would be particularly negative, especially if there were no transnational debate. There is a risk that it would push the rest of the European population towards even stronger opposition to the European project, seeing it as outdated, useless and even hostile to Europeans.

Finally, another question arises. What has been achieved by those who have a different vision of Europe and intend to develop a more integrated vision of Europe, moving further in the direction of harmonisation and certain shared values? At the moment this position has not been sufficiently explored, although it has been an intrinsic part of the European project since its creation. Failing to raise the subject in this sense on the continent is a danger that must be avoided.

What do the Brexit referendum and the campaigns taking place tell us about democracy in Europe and the future of solidarity in Europe?

The United Kingdom truly has a place at the heart of the EU. However, we cannot settle for reforms that end with this referendum, shaped only by the “deal” achieved by David Cameron. The EU needs substantial reform to function better and achieve its fundamentally democratic aims. It can only be built with the consent of its citizens, and this can only be granted if everyone is recognised in the common project.

The debate about Brexit should also be carried out in our country. It should give people an opportunity to say what the European project should consist of today, and which direction it should take in the future. We will never turn the British into advocates of an integrated, federal Europe united by strong bonds of solidarity. However, this situation cannot stop the continent from progressing. This referendum should be used and reclaimed by all Europeans to improve Europe. At a time when Euroscepticism and populist nationalism are affecting many countries in the Union, this type of debate is an opportunity that we should seize. Indeed, watching the referendum on Brexit being held without participating as we would like revives the idea of the British exception as the norm: everything can be renegotiated downwards, solely on the basis of an inward-looking perspective. This has been that strategy of the United Kingdom for several decades. It should not be adopted by other European states, who have a different history and a different approach to the Union. This applies even more strongly to the founder countries. 10 years after the failure of the debate on the European Constitution, the debate on Brexit should open the door to new reflection on the Union, moving away from current rancour and the search for a second-best solution. Brexit does not mean relinquishing something, but it is rather an opportunity to fight together for something better within the Union. Integration must progress, and some people are coming forward to say so.

Croatia – Dejan Jović

How is the Brexit issue perceived in your country and particularly among political parties?

The Brexit issue if not a central concern of Croatian political parties. They are still trying to find their place following recent parliamentary elections and are focused on intra-party elections. Unlike the refugee crisis, Brexit seems to be something that does not affect Croatia. Croatia is a country that joined the EU only in 2013. However, there was not much enthusiasm for EU membership. The largest segment of the population – 58% – did not even take part in the referendum on EU membership, and 14% voted against joining the EU. After a long period of negotiating, EU membership looked like something that would inevitably happen, regardless of whether people want it to or not. Since the early days of the 1990s, Eastern Europeans were told that membership of the EU was “the only game in town“; that there were no alternatives. But many felt that the EU demands from candidate-countries more than some EU members-states were prepared to accept for themselves. This was especially the case with the UK. For example, while new candidates are expected to integrate into both Schengen and Euro, such expectation does not exist when it comes to the UK. This produces ambiguous feelings about UK. On the one hand, countries like Croatia “envy“ it for having secured more autonomy/independence within the EU. The political elite in Croatia is in fact in favour of a looser EU, and thus it shows some understanding or empathy towards the British position. On the other hand, however, there is also a sense that the UK is not always following the rules that are allegedly the same for all countries. This causes a sense of inequality, which is especially felt by smaller countries.

What would a Brexit mean for the EU project? What repercussions do you envisage it might lead to in your country or region?

If Britain left, this would encourage anti-EU forces in a number of countries to promote the same for their own countries. It would be seen as a failure of the EU, and the first serious sign that it is no longer attractive for all countries. This might lead to an even weaker and more disunited EU. The internal structure of the EU might become more unbalanced, and peripheral countries might begin to feel that they are under more pressure from core countries – in particular Germany. Brexit would open doors for a “take it or leave it“ policy – since leaving would now become an option.

In the Western Balkans, stabilisation and democratisation – even when simulated – were closely linked with EU-perspectives. But if the UK leaves the EU, reformist and pro-EU forces in the Western Balkans will lose some of their main arguments. Uncertainty about the future of the EU will encourage many to start looking for protection and “supervision“ elsewhere – perhaps towards the US (which is already present in these countries, and in particular in Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia) or Russia (perhaps in Serbia, and Republika Srpska). All these societies are divided when it comes to loyalties and sentiments they have towards West and East. Some think that stability and prosperity could be achieved not only by relying on the EU and by expecting membership, but also by relying on a triangle ‘Washington-Moscow-Ankara’, especially when it comes to Bosnia-Herzegovina. Public opinion in Serbia and Republic of Srpska are increasingly pro-Russian, and Albanians (both in Albania and in Kosovo) are relying on the US more than on the EU. Bosniaks from Bosnia-Herzegovina often feel that Turkey understands them better than EU. If EU fails, this and other alternatives might become more attractive. However, in current circumstances one wonders whether such alternatives are realistic. If not, and if the EU is weakened by Brexit, a sense of “being abandoned“ might prevail in the Western Balkans. In this case, there will be some fertile ground for local authoritarian rulers.

What do the Brexit referendum and the campaigns taking place tell us about democracy in Europe and the future of solidarity in Europe?

A referendum is a form of democracy, although a risky one when it comes to foreign-policy decisions. This referendum was perhaps an unnecessary one because it is a result of pure domestic concerns of the British electorate, and also of intra-party divisions in the Conservative party. However, even if unnecessary, this referendum shows that people are the one who decide on major political issues, such as the possibility leaving of the EU. The EU is an elite-driven project, but it needs tacit or explicit consent by general population. The referendum debate in UK is in fact a useful tool for refreshing interest in the EU, and for focusing on its character in more detail.

France – Rosalie Salaun

How is the Brexit issue perceived in your country and in your Green party/movement?

Generally speaking, in France, as in many other European states, issues related to the EU suffer from a lack of popularity. According to the French left wing, François Hollande has been greatly discredited on European issues since he betrayed his pledge to renegotiate the budgetary treaty (TSCG), something he had promised during his campaign for presidential elections in 2012. Thus, he instantly broke the small hope of a new democratic breath in the European project that his election gave rise to.

However, the British are well-known for their lack of cooperation in the building of the EU as a project and for their willingness to make their own interests prevail over a collective project, an attitude that Thatcher’s famous “I want my money back” perfectly illustrates.

Regarding the Greens, the debates on European issues are still marked by the 2005 referendum on the Constitutional Treaty, on which the Greens were very divided. Today, the core of the discussions is still the same: is it worth participating in the institutions with the aim of changing their political orientation from the inside, or should we consider that the fruit is already rotten and that the political fight must focus on creating new and more democratic institutions and on supporting social movements? This question is even more sensitive for the French Greens, as they faced this debate when the two Green ministers left the so-called socialist government in 2014 after they realised that there were no possibilities to influence the political and economic choices.

So paradoxically, in a French Green perspective, the Brexit referendum could be considered the straw that breaks the camel’s back of the British conditions to take part in the European project, but also as an attempt to question the European project itself, particularly its economic orientation, and its democratic side.

What would a Brexit mean for the EU project? What repercussions do you envisage it might lead to in your country or region?

The most problematic European issue in the relationship between France and Great Britain has been, for months, the refugee crisis. The lack of cooperation from the British side has partly led to the current humanitarian scandal in several towns in the North of France, of which the jungle of Calais is a dramatic and emblematic example. This irresponsibility – from the British, but not only – in the migration crisis contributed to shift the perception of the political European project on security and foreign policy towards the management of migrants. The European leaders, who have not been able to organise calmly and collectively the repartition and welcoming of the migrants, have failed to put the burning issue of solidarity on the agenda of the European project. Consequently, the EU is now not only perceived as undemocratic and abstruse, but also authoritarian. This is basically giving the extreme-right and Eurosceptic movements the stick to be beaten with. Let’s not forget that those movements have succeeded in organising themselves in a group at the European Parliament, gaining more means of action and a wider audience to their every-Member-States-Exit ideas.

In France, a Brexit could reinforce the extreme-right Front National party by giving it a reason to think they are right to fight against a structure for a European Union. However, progressive movements must not forget that, if the victory of the « Out » would seem to validate the unpopularity of the EU, this victory would actually be fake. Indeed, this result would not provide any details about voters’ ideas for building an alternative project for the European Union. In this perspective, Greens and left movements should promote their proposals, such as the reinforcement of the powers of the European Parliament.

What do the Brexit referendum and the campaigns taking place tell us about democracy in Europe and the future of solidarity in Europe?

From a historical perspective, this referendum shows how European leaders failed to create a common project based on solidarity and not only on free domestic trade. It can be a major step in the spread of a British “à la carte” vision of a European project, in which the Member States can take and give whatever they want. Moreover, since the Brexit would be decided through a referendum, this idea would be democratically legitimated.

In order to curb the political rip-off of the extreme-right and Eurosceptic movements, progressive and Green movements have to build a democratic counter-power. This is why in France the Greens follow closely the evolution of the European left wing positions. In this perspective, the recent position of Jeremy Corbyn, in favour of staying in the EU in order to build alliances for an alternative European project, could be decisive in the polarisation and the balance of power of the political landscape in Europe. Yannis Varoufakis’s initiative “DIEM 25” may also be a key element to build a progressive and Green European alliance in the EU.

Finland – Taru Anttonen

How is the Brexit issue perceived in your country and in your Green party/movement?

Brexit has, of course, been in the news a lot lately and different scenarios for the future of the EU have been presented. Generally, the possibility of the UK leaving the EU is seen to have a negative impact both on the EU and on Finland. The official stance of Finnish government is that the Brexit would be a remarkable loss to Finland.

The Finnish Green Party is also very concerned about the issue.  Green MP, Johanna Karimäki, a member of the Great Committee of the Finnish Parliament, just recently wrote in her blog that she doubts whether the UK has fully understood the seriousness of the situation. The stance of the Green Party is that Brexit should be definitely avoided. However, the Green Party has stressed that the outcome of the negotiations with the UK should not remarkably weaken the people’s social security and equality.

What would a Brexit mean for the EU project? What repercussions do you envisage it might lead to in your country or region?

A Brexit would mean huge turmoil for the future of European project – not just for the UK. It would be a giant step backwards along the road of solidarity and it would also have a major impact on the European economy. Perhaps the most remarkable effect would however be the negative effect on EU’s credibility and reputation – it would take a long time to build the same level of authority again.

The UK is one of the most important trading partners of Finland, especially in wood industry, so therefore the possibility of the UK leaving the EU would definitely have a negative impact upon the Finnish export industry. Also, it might be that a Brexit would also strengthen eurosceptic voices also demanding a referendum for Finland’s EU membership. The Finns Party has strongly opposed Finland’s EU membership in recent years. Currently the party is in government and their leader, Timo Soini, holds the seat of foreign minister.

What do the Brexit referendum and the campaigns taking place tell us about democracy in Europe and the future of solidarity in Europe?

The Brexit referendum has shown that EU has failed to prove to its citizens the benefits of the Union. If people feel that the EU and the benefits of a global economy don’t concern them, we can’t really blame them, especially when far-right populist parties all over Europe are portraying the EU as a problem and a threat. They have been able to appeal to people’s feeling of insecurity, rising from the ongoing refugee crisis as well as the terrorist attacks in France and Belgium. Defenders of European co-operation and solidarity haven’t been able to challenge this picture.

It is, however, important to remember that the democratic deficit has been a reality in the European Union for a long time. The Lisbon Treaty enhanced the democracy of the Union, but the deficit is still far from being solved.

Germany – Michael Kellner

How is the Brexit issue perceived in your country and in your Green party/movement?

The German Greens deeply want the United Kingdom to remain a member state of the European Union. The Brits give the European Union economic and political power. Hence, they are glad that the negotiations between David Cameron and the European Union came to a result. From their perspective, it is important that the negotiations have not compromised any fundamental principles of the European Union. We could not accept a ”EU à la carte”. We now expect the government of the United Kingdom to powerfully engage in a campaign to remain a Member State and oppose a no-vote in the referendum. We also expect the German government and the European partners to speak out for the UK to remain an EU member state. Without the Brits as a part of the European Union, we would miss our dear friends.

What would a Brexit mean for the EU project? What repercussions do you envisage it might lead to in your country or region?

A Brexit would be a significant blow for the European project in an already challenging time for Europe. It would strengthen the argumentation of the Euro-sceptics. It would be harder to resist further attempts by Member States to negotiate opt-outs in order to avoid weakening the European project. But it would not stop us fighting for a better Europe. The idea of the nation state is not the answer to the challenges posed in the globalised 21st century. Rather than lowering European standards, we should strengthen them. Hence, we are glad that part of the UK-EU deal is that the goal of an ever closer Union remains a political ambition in the treaties. Furthermore, it is important for us that the Eurozone is operational while non-members remain affiliated.

What do the Brexit referendum and the campaigns taking place tell us about democracy in Europe and the future of solidarity in Europe?

The European Union is a success story that has resulted in an era of peace and prosperity on a continent that has caused way too much harm in the past. However, these significant achievements are often overshadowed by negative developments. We are currently in the middle of a fight between the idea of an illiberal democracy and a stronger and better union. We need Britain as an inventor of modern democracy to stay on our side in this fight. This is the European challenge facing my generation.

Greece – Kostas Loukeris

How is the Brexit issue perceived in your country and in your Green party/movement?

Greece is in its 7th year of recession without any viable prospect for recovery. The atmosphere of pressure, unfulfilled expectations and despair has resulted in a national depression and ‘loneliness’. Within this framework it comes as no surprise that very few in Greece even discuss the upcoming British referendum on the country’s membership in the European Union. This political apathy covers all segments of the Greek population, political parties and think tanks. Those Greeks who seem to care about the issue inevitably translate the referendum’s possible results into gains and losses for Greece, setting aside the EU project as a whole. For the majority of Greeks, the EU is becoming a ‘necessary evil’ in the absence of any other alternative. The ongoing refugee crisis, the wars and subsequent insecurity in our neighbourhood (Syria, Iraq, Libya, Ukraine and – let’s not forget – Turkey) toppled by the EU’s practical absence strengthen cynical approaches and regrettably enough give rise to ultra right-wing voices. Such voices are heard louder and clearer day by day throughout our continent. The ‘British question’ is practically absent from the Greek media. In the best case scenario, the recent EU Heads of States and governments’ concessions to David Cameron’s demands are seen as one more piece in the puzzle of a weaker and less social European Union.

What would a Brexit mean for the EU project? What repercussions do you envisage it might lead to in your country or region?

One could turn the question upside down. If Britons vote ‘yes’ to Brexit, what would that mean for the EU project? Is there an EU project after all? Can we still be satisfied with keeping the EU framework alive while its content is disappearing? Should we be happy if Britain remains an EU member, knowing that this country almost detests some very basic notions of our project?

Greek-British connections go back in history. English banks were the first to loan money to the Greek revolutionaries during the Greek war of independence (1821 – 1829) against the Ottoman Empire. Ever since that period and till the Greek civil war (1945 – 1949), England was the match maker in Greek politics, only to pass the baton to the US during the demise of its world empire. Greek ship owners still have a solid base in London, while at the same time tens of thousands of Greek youths opt to pursue their undergraduate and graduate studies in UK universities. A possible Brexit would not affect these relations as long as the EU will not take any measures to ‘punish’ Britain. It is usually smaller countries which are threatened by the EU and not Britain. This reality makes Greeks ever more cynical and apathetic toward a possible Brexit. Britain’s traditional ‘cross-eyed’ policies in regard to ‘the continent’ and its former colony to its west add to this apathy and indifference.

What do the Brexit referendum and the campaigns taking place tell us about democracy in Europe and the future of solidarity in Europe?

Democracy and solidarity are becoming ‘endangered species’ in today’s EU. Those who still believe in EU integration and its perspectives cannot stop thinking about the contradiction of supporting Britain’s membership in the EU as a member state while Britain will have the right to pursue its own policies in a number of issues and thus divert from EU’s goals. A true believer in the EU project faces a dilemma. If one says ‘yes’ s/he says ‘yes’ to all the asterisks that accompany it. The fact that these asterisks help ‘cancel’ the EU project is not a secret. Coming back to the question of democracy, one wonders whether the referendum should be rephrased into ‘no’ and ‘no, but’ as there is no clear ‘yes’ to the EU project as such.

Simultaneously, solidarity is transformed into a mere slogan without actual content and meaning. Solidarity is not simply exercised by wanting Britain to remain member of a crippling EU. It does not also mean simply giving loans to its member states aiming at profit. Solidarity implies honest debates about the vision of the EU, based on its founding principles, as well as cohesive policies that lead into further integration and ultimately federalism. Solidarity should aim at providing tangible answers to its citizens and the real problems of the Union. As long as the Union practically abstains from reality, solidarity will end up an empty word and more and more EU citizens will feel less European and more British, Greek, Hungarian and French.

Those who hold Pandora’s box know very well what to do with it. It takes political will and a vision to revive the EU project. The alternative is a requiem for democracy and solidarity as they are among the cornerstones of the EU project.

Hungary –  László Perneczky

How is the Brexit issue perceived in your country and in your Green party/movement?

In Hungary, Brexit is not a leading issue, neither within the party and its discussions nor in the country’s media. If mentioned, it is only in the context of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who frequently has double standards towards Europe, saying: “Let’s be strong, let’s send a message to Brussels that Hungary is a state of its own”. He perceives the European project as a sum, of individual countries’ interests, and nothing more. There’s a similarity to Britain there. As an island, of course Britain views other member states as continental, so there’s always been a bit of separation. This separation is accentuated also with its special deals, even though it’s a member of the EU – unlike Norway, for example, and unlike other EEA countries, so already they don’t really comply with all the rules. There’s a lot of exceptions, but it’s not surprising. It’s a surprise from Hungary. There was also a discussion within the party and also among experts that Cameron, and EU leaders like Juncker, are much weaker political personalities than their predecessors.

The UK is a very special, strong country. It’s a strange coincidence that a weak leader of a strong country would raise the issue of leaving the EU, compared to Hungary, which is a weak country, very dependent on EU funding (especially in areas of development) with an autocratic leader and democratic procedures that are very much top-down controlled, unfortunately. We have a strong leader of a weak country, and the impression is that it’s a very dangerous combination when a strong, democratic, European country can get to the verge of disintegration because of its weak leadership.

What would a Brexit mean for the EU project? What repercussions do you envisage it might lead to in your country or region?

If the UK were to leave the EU, Hungary would be one of the big losers of this process. Of course, there’s concern for the massive amount of highly qualified people that have moved from Hungary to the UK, to the City of London for example – 400,000 or 500,000 – working either permanently or short term in the UK. If there are stricter regulations on free movement, or if the UK moves away from free movement of labour, then Hungarians will be evicted or marginalised. They would have to return back to the continent, either to Hungary, or to Germany or France, but English is an easy, common language so it will be tough for Hungary and Hungarians. This kind of income would be badly missed in national welfare, because those who work in the UK have fairly good, well paid jobs compared to Hungarians at home, where the salary is 4/5 times less than what they would earn in the UK, which makes a massive difference. Both the UK and Hungary would be losers of a disintegration of the EU, but there’s not so much talk about it because it’s not so much of an economic concern. It’s more about migration and free movement of labour to the core or richer parts of the EU from the marginal or new countries. It’s really not in the public debate, however.

What do the Brexit referendum and the campaigns taking place tell us about democracy in Europe and the future of solidarity in Europe?

The older Green parties have the basic values of sustainability, justice and public participation. Unfortunately, the referendum Orban announced recently on migration – not to take migrants in and to defy the quotas imposed by the EU – is an outrageous one. Such a referendum is, in Hungary, more of a political communication game and it’s not really the democratic tool that it is supposed to be. This is unlike in the UK, where in the Scottish referendum it was really perceived that whatever the majority would vote for would be a truly democratic result. The democratic game, the preparations, the pro and counter arguments: they are all balanced. There’s a fear that whatever referendum comes in Hungary will unfortunately be a very different thing, but of course the Greens are in favour of referendums because even a badly organised referendum that failed to reach the electoral threshold is still good in the sense that it’s positive to have the citizens exercise democratic rights. Even imprecise or vague questions would increase the debate on the issue, and ultimately the voting itself is not such a big deal. Even if the UK were to leave the EU, their special agreements would mostly remain and they would immediately have access to the EEA zone with the likes of Norway, Luxembourg and Iceland. Of course it would very much weaken their sanctioning ability and their participation and overall the strength of the EU.

Italy – Roberto della Seta

How is the Brexit issue perceived in your country and in your Green party/movement?

The “Brexit” referendum and the real possibility that the United Kingdom may leave the European Union have attracted limited attention in Italy. There are two main reasons for this: a large proportion of the public in Italy is generally not interested in anything that happens abroad, and a feeling of mistrust and rejection of politics has recently become more widespread.

At the same time, there is a broad and prolonged phenomenon going beyond the “Brexit” issue, which has been dubbed “antipolitica” in Italy. It was a consequence of the economic and social crisis of recent years, but it also stems from the chronic inadequacy of “public actors” (the inefficiency of public authorities, political corruption, parties that have completely ceased to be representative). In my country and other countries in Europe, this phenomenon has helped spread a sceptical and suspicious attitude towards European institutions, which has meant that “Brussels bureaucrats” are blamed even more than politicians and the government in Rome for everything that is going wrong in Italy: record levels of unemployment, over-taxation and increasing poverty.

For decades, the Italians were one of the most pro-European peoples in the Union, and for decades almost all Italian political movements and parties advocated Europe as a value, a model and an objective. This is no longer the case. The two main opposition parties – “Lega” and the “Cinquestelle” movement – are riding the wave of Euro-scepticism and directly questioning Italy’s participation in the Eurozone. Also, in his dual role as head of government and leader of the party that holds a majority, Matteo Renzi does not miss a chance to berate the austerity policies imposed by Brussels, which prevent him from implementing more effective measures to revive the Italian economy (lowering taxes, increasing public investment).

As for environmentalists, the Greens have been absent from the Italian “political landscape” for years, so our vision has been almost entirely absent from the public debate about “Brexit” and the future of the European Union. Italian environmentalists and Greens have a long pro-European tradition, strongly symbolised by the figure of Alexander Langer. Nonetheless it has been difficult to gain coverage for our “critical pro-European” stance, our conviction that we must take a European perspective and our belief that Europe can only survive by making its institutions more democratic and sovereign and following the path of a “Green new deal”. In Italy today, the voice of those proposing a Green alternative to the conservatism that is governing Europe and the reactionary trend towards nationalist and populist forces is very weak.

What would a Brexit mean for the EU project? What repercussions do you envisage it might lead to in your country or region?

A possible “yes” vote in the referendum on 23rd June in the United Kingdom might not mean the death of the European project, but it would certainly hasten the hour of truth when the joint project would either have to be rescued or ended. Today’s Europe has no future; it’s failure could be sealed as early as 2017 if Marine Le Pen won the French election.

If the United Kingdom left the European Union, this would strengthen anti-European parties even in Italy. This veritable turning point in European life would strengthen either the “Lega”, a populist right-wing party very close to the French Front National, with a public discourse based on rejection of immigration and an Italian exit from the Eurozone, or the “Cinquestelle” movement, which came into being as a form of radical protest against the political “caste”, but which has now become a typically populist, anti-establishment force. According to the most recent polls, if there was a vote today the “Lega” would be the largest right-wing party and the “Cinquestelle” movement, which refuses to be labelled as left-wing or right-wing, would get as many votes as Matteo Renzi’s “Partito Democratico” (around 25%). On the basis of the new Electoral Act, it could challenge the PD to a run-off, which it would have a good chance of winning.

However, Le Pen, Farage, Salvini and other heads of nationalist and populist groups are not the only enemies of Europe. There are many more, including most popular and socialist forces and leaders, and everyone who sees Europe not as a “common home”, but rather as a “condominium” of sovereign states. These leaders and parties have long since stopped taking a broad view of the future, and they do not hesitate to trample basic human rights for fear of losing votes. For example, billions of euros have been paid to Erdogan’s Turkey for it to use its own methods to deal with the “problem” of the thousands of Syrian and Iraqi refugees that have arrived on European soil and Europe wants to send back.

This Europe has nothing to do with the one of which Altiero Spinelli dreamed, nor the one conceived by De Gasperi, Schuman and Adenauer. A difficult task faces the European Greens and everyone who believes that Europe can only be saved by becoming a “common home” rather than a “condominium” and reconciling itself with the values of “liberty, fraternity and equality” written in its history and its founding texts. They must convince Europeans as quickly as possible that Europe is not “the problem” – on the contrary, a truly united and fully democratic Europe is in fact “the solution” and the only realistic response to the risk of the French, the Italians, the British or indeed the Germans becoming little more than bit players in a globalised world. The risk is imminent: suffice it to recall that according to current economic growth trends, within twenty or thirty years not one European country, including Germany, would have a seat at the table of the G8.

What do the Brexit referendum and the campaigns taking place tell us about democracy in Europe and the future of solidarity in Europe?

Campaigns to influence public opinion against Europe have been increasingly successful among Europeans. The “Brexit” referendum, in which millions of Britons will vote on the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, is just the most recent manifestation of this phenomenon, which has been ongoing for a long time and which concerns many European countries, including Italy.

In my country, the “Eurosceptic” mobilisations behind the electoral success of the “Lega” and the “Cinquestelle” movement have become increasingly popular because Europe is an easy scapegoat for various social, economic and “existential” ills suffered by Italian society. However, one of the factors fuelling the rise of the “Lega” and the “Cinquestelle” movement in Italy is a question that must be addressed: Italians, like many Europeans, feel they have been expropriated of the right to decide their destiny; they are hungry for democracy and that is why they are increasingly suspicious of such an undemocratic Europe. Many of them believe that a return to strong Italian sovereignty would allow them to participate more directly in decisions that affect their interests and their needs. In short, if Europe does not become more democratic – with a parliament with real decision-making powers and an elected government – the challenge posed in Italy and elsewhere by anti-European parties could become unstoppable. What has happened on other pages of European history shows that concerns about democracy could push my country and our continent in a tragic direction.

Ireland –  Dan Boyle

How is the Brexit issue perceived in your country and in your Green party/movement?

For those in Ireland with an awareness of the European project, who have informed themselves of why it is important in existing and in continuing to exist, and who believe co-existence rather than insularity to be the only way forward: there is a fear of Britain, and after them, others in Europe, retreating into a dark past.

Ireland’s entry, in 1973, into the then European Economic Community, was contiguous with that of the UK. It had to be. The UK was then, by far, Ireland’s largest trading partner. 50% of Ireland’s exports were dependent on them. The evolution of the EU since has lessened this dependence. Nevertheless, the UK, now responsible for about 15% of Ireland’s trade, continues to be one of Ireland’s largest trading partners. Any decision of the UK to leave the European Union will have an enormously damaging, at least in the short term, economic effect for Ireland.

The re-introduction of a hard border on the island of Ireland will undermine the valuable peace process work undertaken over the last twenty years. There is a danger that the accommodation that has existed since, the acceptance of different views of nationhood and affiliation, may unravel and retreat to the tribal horrors of our past.

For the Green Party/Comhaontas Glas, their views on European integration, like those of similar Green parties in Sweden and the UK, have also evolved in recent years. These parties stood apart from other European green parties in questioning how the project was progressing. What is interesting is that these countries were also those most physically distant from Brussels.

The Irish Green Party has considered itself euro-realist rather than euro-sceptic. The party has never advocated leaving the EU. Our fears have related to the real, and sadly continuing, democratic deficit within the EU.

As a neutral country, as a party committed to the pacific resolution of disputes, we bridled against the security preoccupations of other countries, and the implication that the NATO role should be played by the EU.

Our Constitution obliged Ireland to consult, through referendum, with our citizens any changes in the structures of the European Union. Up until the Treaty of Lisbon, Irish Greens believed that the proposed changes should not be accepted. By then we were a part of government. Our motivation became to counteract the terrible changes introduced through the Treaty of Nice. Even then, much of our party membership, like many Irish people then and now, have not been not convinced.

What would a Brexit mean for the EU project? What repercussions do you envisage it might lead to in your country or region?

Brexit would give succour to reactionary forces in most EU countries. It appeals to those who believe simplistic analysis answers the most complex of situations. Even in Ireland there are many who would succumb to such an analysis. Particularly at times of economic uncertainty there is a cohort in each EU country which seeks an obvious reason to blame for feelings of loss, disempowerment and displacement. In Ireland, the less-than-fair-way the European Central Bank has, in essence, bullied Ireland and other countries, in ignoring the need for burden sharing, has created an element as great in its insularity as the ‘Brexiters’.

The solution, therefore, is not only to challenge the flawed thinking, but also to acknowledge the real and justified fears many citizens have about the direction and pace of change within the EU.

The instinct in Ireland, at least officially, would be to remain, but the result of a future referendum cannot be guaranteed.

A future EU has to become truly democratic in its essence. If it doesn’t do so, and quickly, this will sow the seeds of reaction, the consequence of which may lead to a guaranteed uncertainty and possible unimaginable horrors.

What do the Brexit referendum and the campaigns taking place tell us about democracy in Europe and the future of solidarity in Europe?

It allows those with petty nationalistic agendas to play upon the weaknesses of the EU process, by then offering simplistic answers in response to the prejudiced reactions created.

It is depressing to watch those with populist agendas abuse the democratic process by playing on such prejudice.

Polity depends on honesty, responsibility and consistency. The mood of the moment is to presume that government is always to blame. This sense of disengagement has created a culture of where no one is ever really responsible for anything.

If the EU wants to achieve a public buy-in to what it is and what it trying to bring about, it needs to self-identify its many flaws whilst identifying how and when they will be corrected.

Netherlands – Tom Vasseur

How is the Brexit issue perceived in your country and in your Green party/movement?

The Brexit referendum has largely been ignored in the Netherlands due to the focus on the Dutch debate on the EU-Ukraine treaty referendum and its aftermath. There were, however, some who argued that the Dutch referendum should also be seen as a precursor to the British referendum.

Those who do follow the Brexit debate can be divided along the three lines: pro-Europeans who want the UK to remain in, including GroenLinks; eurosceptics who want the UK out; and pro-Europeans who hope that a Brexit will lead to a leap forward in integration after Brexit.

What would a Brexit mean for the EU project? What repercussions do you envisage it might lead to in your country or region?

A Brexit would first of all permanently damage the narrative of European integration’s inevitable progress. It also will prove to be a litmus test for eurosceptics in all Member States. If leaving the EU ends in disaster for the UK, they will find it difficult to convince citizens elsewhere. Geopolitically, Brexit might have serious consequences for EU-US relations, but it is difficult to say in which direction they will develop. Will the US pick a new partner for a special relationship or will the EU be pushed along a path of greater independence from the US?

In addition, a Brexit might seriously hurt the position of the Dutch government in the EU. Traditionally a force for liberal economic arrangements together with the UK, it might find it more difficult to realise its goals. The Dutch public might react in two ways. It might develop a self-image as ‘the new UK’: a Eurosceptic population unwillingly participating in the EU. However, if efforts to advance economic liberalisation will, in fact, be hampered after the UK’s departure from the EU, in the long term it may result in more acceptance of the EU.

What do the Brexit referendum and the campaigns taking place tell us about democracy in Europe and the future of solidarity in Europe?

The British referendum is just one example of a larger trend in Europe where citizens turn away from representative democracy in favour of more direct forms of democracy. One the one hand, it indicates that citizens do have a need to engage in democratic politics and will open up new ways when technocratic governance has suffocated the established channels for political activity. On the other hand, however, it also is in a sense a return to a less mature form of democratic politics.

Secondly, the referendum shows how the popular pressure to make politics more local finds form in the wish to revert fully back to the nation state. The fact that the UK has been among the least enthusiastic participants in the European project shouldn’t make us think that it is an exception. Even if the UK is an outlier, the reversion to nationalism is a Europe-wide phenomenon which will inevitably affect the European project, especially since many politicians seem increasingly willing to allow this trend to manifest itself without offering any real defence of the European project.

Poland – Bartłomiej Kozek

How is the Brexit issue perceived in your country and in your Green party/movement?

The Brexit issue has been discussed mainly from the national perspective in the Polish media. Journalists and pundits focus mainly on the issue of the freedom of movement as hundreds of thousands of Poles went to the UK looking for work after the EU enlargement in 2004.

Public opinion was sensitive towards any examples of discriminatory remarks regarding Poles working in the UK and therefore it was not a surprise that politicians and the media focused on the idea of limiting the access to some benefits that was the aim of David Cameron’s negotiations. Wider issues related to the future of the EU were visible, albeit discussed on a smaller scale.

Liberal commentators pointed out that the Law and Justice (PiS) government allied itself with the Tories (Conservative Party) in the European Parliament and therefore was promoting and idea of Europe as mostly a free-trade area or ‘the Europe of nations’, which, in their opinion, was not in Polish interests. The issues that Cameron finally negotiated with Brussels show that, despite his claims, he was more interested in granting a special status to the UK than to change the EU in a different, more ‘Tory’ direction.

What would a Brexit mean for the EU project? What repercussions do you envisage it might lead to in your country or region?

The more optimistic scenario that some proponents of further European integration seem to envision is that Brexit will lead to the rest of the EU going faster in the direction of an ‘ever closer union’ with i.e. with a bigger EU budget or a basic common social policy.

The question is: will such a scenario unravel in the real world? There are reasons to be sceptical.

It is possible that Brexit will create a domino effect of more and more governments (not only in the European periphery, but also, for example, in Denmark or the Netherlands) demanding further opt-outs from common policies. It may end not with a two-speed Europe, but a sort of a Swiss cheese of policies, making the whole project incomprehensible for the public.

It may result in a sort of a small, fast-integrating EU core, comprised of a part of the countries of the Eurozone. A scenario of being left out of such a project seems unfavourable for countries of Central Europe – Poland included.

A weakened EU – not to mention the downsizing of the project – would give more leverage to Russia, that would try to regain at least part of its influence on the countries of the former Soviet bloc.

The weakening of the EU would also make the harmonisation of living standards in Central and Western Europe more difficult. If the UK were to limit immigration levels from the EU, it would mean more frustration in countries from which people went to work in the United Kingdom.

Such a scenario can also mean more experiments in some forms of soft authoritarianism in the likes of Viktor Orban. In countries where more right-wing parties, such as Fidesz in Hungary or Law and Justice (PiS) in Poland, gained rule they may even become a new centre ground – a force that can be better than liberal and left-wing parties in stopping even more radical forces (ie. Jobbik) from gaining power.

What do the Brexit referendum and the campaigns taking place tell us about democracy in Europe and the future of solidarity in Europe?

The problem with the current state of democracy in Europe stems from the growing perception that we have less and less to say about the state of current affairs. We can even elect a progressive, radical left-wing government like in Greece, only to watch as it is forced to be obedient to the creditors of the country.

With this in mind, two tendencies seem to be growing as a result. The first one is a thirst for having a sense of independence. Because the national state seems to be the only known form of such independence, it is becoming the main goal for different political forces.

Some of them, like in Scotland or Catalonia, may be progressive and sympathetic towards the idea of European integration.

Sadly, the majority takes a populist, right-wing path of closing borders; severing any projects that envision enhanced cooperation in an interdependent world and limiting solidarity to national borders. Such a stance takes different shapes, but is united with the feeling that national states can guarantee more sovereignty than post-national projects.

Another issue that may be controversial – especially amongst Greens, who for years strived for more democracy – is whether current plebiscites such as the Brexit vote are the best way to deal with the crisis of democratic legitimacy. One may argue that it truly gives ‘power to the people’. But can we really deal with such a power in a more and more complicated world, in which facts are being questioned to the point of denying climate change or putting fears regarding immigration ahead of facts?

Maybe it is high time to think about reinvigorating other tools required for a thriving democracy, such as ‘old-school’ political parties or parliaments. It does not mean that such tools do not need an upgrade, but a ‘direct democracy utopia’ may have its limitations too.

Portugal – Isabel Castro

How is the Brexit issue perceived in your country and in your Green party/movement?

Portugal does not want the UK to leave the EU. “Our position is very simple,” said Portugal’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Augusto Santos Silva, recently. “We will do everything in our power so that the UK remains in the EU.” However, he rejected any accommodation that “called into question fundamental values” such as freedom of movement and non-discrimination.

The Socialist government’s attitude to Brexit is similar to that of the previous government. For different reasons, the leftest parties – supporting the government in Parliament – remain absent from the public debate, and are, indeed, non-existent.

The Communist Party stands up for Portugal to be out of the Eurozone. The Green Party defends the possibility that this should, at least, be studied. The Left Bloc is in this case less radical, but still quite eurosceptic.

Nevertheless, people of all political persuasions are concerned with the impact of the agreement negotiated between the EU and UK, as the exceptional Pact adopted in February will allow, among others, a so called “substantial change” and an ”emergency brake” on migrant benefits. In Portugal, everybody considers that negative. And all defend that it´s crucial to preserve the social rights of thousands of Portuguese citizens living in the country, since the UK became the major destination of Portuguese migration after 2010.

The Green Party, as the others, took no public initiative concerning this question.

The subject in fact did not figure in debates during the run-up to the October general election. Nor in the presidential campaign, last January.

What would a Brexit mean for the EU project? What repercussions do you envisage it might lead to in your country or region?

Opinions on whether the UK should stay or go vary among Portuguese citizens and also among British residents in the country. While Portugal and Britain have shared an alliance spanning over six centuries, they have some key differences in modern Europe. The most obvious is that unlike the UK, Portugal is a member of the Eurozone and of the Schengen open borders agreement.

The uncertainty regarding the referendum´s result created, in certain political circles, tension, mainly because the EU is living a moment of extraordinary difficulty. Confronting an emergency situation, the EU institutions do not seem prepared to deal with: the refuges crisis; economic problems, namely the debt crises and its social and political impacts; the threat of terrorism; increasing populism and xenophobia; and nationalistic isolationism.

A Brexit would make Europe weaker, in global terms. The result would quite probably contribute towards the fragmentation of Europe and contribute to reinforcing nationalism, undermining the integration process and solidarity among states and citizens.

Paradoxically, if the referendum confirms that the UK should stay, now that most of the British demands have been accepted, some believe that new imponderables will soon be wafting around. The special agreement between the EU and the UK last February confirmed the UK’s privileged status (social rights and migrant policies, namely Schengen; financial system benefits in the city and offshore; and “droit de regard” in a Eurozone they did not integrate into) which poses additional obstacles to deeper cooperation, reforms and integration.

As regards Portugal, the impact is obviously negative. Portugal is a country of immigration with half of the Portuguese population living outside the country. Our External Policy has always been orientated to defend the rights of Portuguese migrants.

What do the Brexit referendum and the campaigns taking place tell us about democracy in Europe and the future of solidarity in Europe?

The right of the citizens to participate in the decision-making process and to decide about their future is fundamental. A pillar of democracy is what the Greens are in favour of.

The experience with referendums in Europe however, is not a happy one. Most of the important decisions in the EU have been taken by dominant elites without any sort of people´s consulting.  Democratic procedures have been often violated, whereas expressed opinions did not match with the ones expected by the EU main players (Ireland, Denmark, Greece).

As regards the upcoming referendum in UK, the general understanding is that it seems to be a process to pressure EU institutions and keep a statute further and distant in terms of solidarity regarding other member states. Also, it is an instrument with internal political purposes, to support the leader of a divided party, instead of an open opportunity to debate modern solutions needed to the challenges in the EU. So, this issue is not strictly about democracy

The campaign tends to ignore the most important questions. It is, most of all, the populist vision of a country who wants to pay the minimum price for the maximum profit, staying in a project the UK does not wish to transform nor integrate into.

Solidarity, as the main idea behind the EU project, is ignored. Social rights, even for EU migrants, are strongly reduced; freedom of circulation is limited; the financial system stands out of any effective surveillance by the EU; fiscal control does not exist; and environmental standards are devalued.

The fundamental values seem to put to one side in the referendum debate.  In a country outside of Schengen, out of The Human Rights Fundamental Charter, with social and fiscal dumping;  one that welcomes offshores and fiscal paradises, avoids fair taxation, with limited freedom of circulation.

The UK, whatever its decision may be, is really distant from joining the discussion on European issues that really matter and need to be tackled together, as a Union, to improve our citizens’ lives, both now and in the future.

Spain – Paula V. Espinosa Gimenez and Florent Marcellesi

How is the Brexit issue perceived in your country and in your Green party/movement?

According to a survey published in ‘The Daily Telegraph‘, 76% of Spaniards hope the UK will not leave the bloc. This is given because the European project is part of the Spanish state project. Overall, and despite a gradual disenchantment, the Spanish population still has a positive image of the European Union and trusts it.

Although Spain and the UK are not neighbouring countries, the Spanish perception of a possible Brexit is that it will cause deterioration and increase complexity with Spanish-British relations. Many Spanish people, as a result of the economic crisis, decided to start a new life in the UK, and under a Brexit, the rights granted to them by the European treaties could be jeopardised. In this way, the situation of Spanish citizens living in Britain (200,000) will be uncertain, but so will that of all those British people living on Spanish soil (300,000 and 800,000). Something similar would happen for the 700 British companies based in Spain and the 300 Spanish companies based Britain. A lack of good understanding regarding the economic relations could risk certain investments in the country for a possible future relocation of companies.

Regarding EQUO’s position, the Spanish Green Party, the biggest concern is the danger of the disintegration of the whole of the EU and the subsequent loss of the fundamental principles on which the European project is based.

“The bad Agreement EU-UK” from the European Council, 18-19 February 2016 opens an alternative that ranged between the bad and the good: if there is no Brexit, it will have been achieved at the price of great concessions that endanger European integration itself.; if there is a Brexit, the failure will be double: in negotiations with Cameron and then at the polls with British voters (despite concessions!). Neither honour, nor unity in diversity.

That being said, at the time of writing, Spanish policy is focused on the formation of an interim Government. Unfortunately, the Brexit topic (and European issues in general) is for now a marginal issue. In case new Spanish elections are held, they would take place three days after the Brexit and probably would overshadow the Brexit issue, as was the case with COP21.

What would a Brexit mean for the EU project? What repercussions do you envisage it might lead to in your country or region?

Historically, the UK has maintained a somewhat distant role towards the European project. The call for a referendum on Brexit puts the whole Union in an uncomfortable and undesirable position. It calls into question, once again, the institutional framework of the EU and it jeopardises the future of its operation.

Europe is experiencing one of the most delicate moments of its modern history. The debt crisis is still unresolved and there is an unpleasant feeling that there are first and second-class Europeans: while soaring concessions for the UK to stay in the EU are made, the Eurogroup humiliates Greece (Grexit). With this breeding ground, the idea that the European Union is becoming increasingly remote from its founding origins gains credence.

It’s almost certain that in the event of a vote in favour of Brexit, a second referendum on independence in Scotland will take place, and will appeal to a pro-European vision. This will draw clear parallels with the case of Catalonia, and a profound debate about independence and its relationship with the EU will open. All this could transcend territorial configuration in the Spanish model, very similar to the British model.

It is to be expected nevertheless that the ties between UK and Spain are to become slightly weaker in the case of Brexit. The concerns bear primarily on freedom of movement, and on economic and strategic ties with the UK.

What do the Brexit referendum and the campaigns taking place tell us about democracy in Europe and the future of solidarity in Europe?

Since the onset of the economic and Euro crisis in Europe, economic benefits stemming from the existence of the EU are not obvious nor immediate for Great Britain. Since then, the British have questioned their position in the European project. Euroscepticism has begun to form part of a popular cause among a growing number of voters, not only in the UK. In the case of the UK it manifests with UKIP, but also in other European countries: Front National in France; the Freedom Party in the Netherlands; or Golden Dawn in Greece. The Eurosceptic ideology is accompanied by the exaltation of national sovereignty and ultra-rightists who want little or nothing to do with what is known as ‘European solidarity’.

We were wrong to think of the call for a referendum on June 23 as an isolated act on the principle of European decommissioning. In the last months we have observed how Member states have defied the principles of the European Union and once gave us a glimpse at the European identity crisis. Some specific cases are: the refusal of the central European countries to accept quotas of refugees designated by the Commission; the referendum held in July 2015 in Greece to facilitate the Troika’s negotiations; or the referendum in the Netherlands in April 2016 on the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.

At the same time, the referendum in the UK is an opportunity to re-politicise Europe. It’s time to put the EU in the public debate. The EU is not a technocratic issue; it is a political and democratic issue. The European Greens must promote the future of democracy and solidarity throughout Europe. It is urgent to think of Europe both as a project and as a positive emotion.

Sweden – Per Gahrton

How is the Brexit issue perceived in your country and in your Green party/movement?

The Swedish Greens fought against Swedish Membership of the European Union until the referendum 1994, then called for a unilateral Swedish exit until 2008. While today they fully accept Sweden as an EU member, they still believe that too much of the EU’s energy (sometimes also among European Greens) has been used for theoretical debates about transforming the EU into a fully-fledged United States of Europe, and that too little has been done to strengthen the EU as a major and coordinated actor concerning imminent transboundary problems, such as the environment, climate change and, lately, refugees. The EU handling (or lack thereof) of the recent refugee crisis caused major disappointment among all Swedes – not least the Swedish Greens – because it was here that Green, open-minded values ruled the official Swedish policy until late 2015. But the result was a crushing set-back because of an almost complete lack of support from other EU countries (except Germany and, to some extent, Austria). Thus, the Swedish Red-Green government had to retreat and introduce draconic barriers, even though it is common knowledge that if the whole of the EU had carried its responsibility then it could have easily “swallowed” 4 million refugees per year.

From this perspective, the threat of Brexit is by many Greens perceived as a reminder that the EU as such is vulnerable if it cannot concentrate on real, transboundary issues and abandon internal squabbling about a “federal” or “confederal” structure for the future. Only very few Swedish Greens want the Brexit to occur; some more think that the Brits are pushing for adequate amendments to EU policies, but there is a hope among Greens and others in Sweden that the referendum as such and the debate around it will help get the EU back on a much needed pragmatic track, making the EU the strong instrument for resolving common, real problems that it should be.

What would a Brexit mean for the EU project? What repercussions do you envisage it might lead to in your country or region?

If Britain should leave the EU, the repercussions would be immense, especially in Scandinavia. The three Scandinavian EU Members (Denmark, Sweden and Finland) would probably never have joined the EU without the UK being an EU-member state. If Britain abandons the EU, the basic discussions about the future of EU relations with Scandinavia will undoubtedly restart, and this will happen during a period when the EU is probably more unpopular than since long. Already the Nordic Area (Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and the autonomous Greenland, Faroe Islands and Åland) has popped up again in the debate as a logical area for closer cooperation; even maybe a fully-fledged United States of the North. The three Nordic EU-states might be tempted by the Norwegian and Icelandic EEA relations to the EU, which also allows for much closer internal Nordic cooperation. It’s important to remember that only one Nordic state, Finland, has introduced the euro, while the two other Nordic EU-states, Denmark and Sweden, after referenda where the governments pushed for the euro, with large popular majorities have decided to retain their national currencies. A Brexit would have far-reaching repercussions in the North, but of course also all over the EU. A core EU around the original six could try to create greater cohesion – but not even that is sure with strong anti-EU populist parties gaining influence and support in the core EU-states of France and Germany.

Although most Swedish Greens still consider the EU to be too centralised and not democratic enough, they are also aware of the considerable risks of dissolving a union. And from an ecological point of view a step back to traditional nation states is a set-back for Green visions of one common world with one common ecological system.

What do the Brexit referendum and the campaigns taking place tell us about democracy in Europe and the future of solidarity in Europe?

The Brexit referendum must be considered an act of democracy. The EU has long suffered from an infamous “democratic deficit”. Thus, any actions to let the people get more involved must be supported. A No to Brexit must be used as a starting point for more democracy in the EU – and for more relevance of the EU to the everyday problems of EU inhabitants, such as the environment and refugees. Because of the additional exemptions the Brits have been granted, a No to Brexit must be interpreted as a demand for a general and thorough analysis of EU rules and policies in order to move competence for a lot of issues down to a relevant level closer to the people – nation, region, local community – whatever is most relevant. Of course, there are also areas where the EU level should have more decision-making competence, such as the environment and asylum and refugee politics. Many Greens in open-minded countries, such as Sweden, have argued against more EU competence on asylum and refugee policies, maintaining that this would result in a less open-minded policy than their national policy.  However, the experience of 2015 has proven that an open-minded refugee policy cannot survive in isolation; that only a common EU policy, open towards asylum-seekers, has a chance of surviving practical difficulties and populist counter-movements. In short: after a British No to Brexit must come a major makeover of the whole of the EU, to make the organisation capable of handling the urgent transboundary issues of our time – a task at which the EU has so deplorably failed for quite some time.

 

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Green Observatory: Brexit

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