Journalists tend to exaggerate the daily realities of the countries they cover. The hyperbole is part of our language. But there is no hyperbole with the Brexit, a real earthquake, not only for the United Kingdom but for the whole European project. To look for
solutions it is necessary to understand the roots of the problems. There we go with the reasons for the Brexit (apart from Cameron’s stupid decision to embrace Farage’s idea to hold a referendum on this).
Losers of globalization. Many voters headed to polls with the topic of inmigration in their heads and a sense of malaise in their hearts. They are the so-called losers of globalization, which in Western countries are mainly unskilled workers. In those English regions economically depressed due to the delocalization of factories, the Brexit won big. The EU is not directly responsible for this, but it embodies globalization for many Brits. As for the inmigration question, some people are xenophobic out of instinct or upbringing. But for others, it is an economic matter. Inmigrants increase the supply of unskilled workers in the labor market, pushing down the salaries in some sectors. Therefore, being against inmigration is completely rational for them.
The creation of the “EU monster”. British intelligentsia has always considered that their national interest lays in the opposition to Europe’s political union. Probably, the reason is a certain arrogance and also nostalgia of the lost Empire. Whatever the reason, in the British press, the EU has always been portrayed as a sort of a bureacratic monster that threatens UK’s sovereignty. But it all depends on how you present the reality to the citizens. For example, you can explain that EU quotas on fishing are imposed to prevent the depletion of some species in our waters … or that a bureaucrat in Brussels does not care about our fishermen. Cameron only supported the “remain” after the dilution of the application of the EU rules to Great Britain. “So if the EU is a monster to be curtailed, why not just leaving it all the way?”, many Brits thought.
Old age is conservative. The difference in the patterns of vote between generations in the referendum is stunning. In part, this may be explained because some old people are among those losers of globalization, since pensions are public services are getting smaller and worse. But not all. Old age is intrinsically conservative. The proggressive death of neurones leave us less prepared to face change, whether this means learning to use a tablet or live in a multicultural world and a liquid society as defined by Zygmund Bauman. And with it comes a sense of nostalgia for a simpler world, less insecure. Because of a low fertility rate, Europe is ageing -a good reason to welcome inmigrants, by the way-, and seniors are more likely to vote than young people. So they win referendums and elections (for the latter, see Spain on June 26th).
And the solution … There is only one of the arguments of the Brexit crew that it is true. Disgusting Neil Farage said recently: “Goodbye to the EU led by unelected leaders”. Only there he is right. We should vote someone like Jean-Claude Juncker, and not leave his election to back-room deals based on personal interests of EU presidents. The EU is seen by many citizens as an opaque and bureaucratic construction, with no accountability. Changing this will mean that the EU should look more like a supra-national State, and this is why Eurosceptics have been preventing it from happening. With Great Britain out, it will be the moment to push for it. However, next months will be tough. Eurosceptics everywhere will feel emboldened and they may get a victory in the coming elections in Holland and France. That would be a real disaster. After these elections, if Wilders and Le Pen fail, it will be the moment to push for a new EU. Deep changes only happen after big shocks.
One more thing, the EU countries have to address its “xenophobia” problem. I think the solution depends on improving and strengthening their welfare state. That is, by increasing solidarity between social classes so that the “losers of globalization” don’t turn their rage against inmigrants and end up voting far right. The winners of globalization (both companies and people), which have seen their income increase in the last decades, have to chip in to improve our welfare state.