Britain will be the first member state to walk away from the European Union, a not-even-close-to-perfect political project that nonetheless has been highly beneficial for Europe.
As the dust settles, the ugliness of the entire Brexit campaign, its destructive scaremongering and willingness to bring about economic and political disaster become even more apparent. It has effectively turned the United Kingdom into a Divided Kingdom, as many have commented already. No-one gains (not even convinced Brexiteers who long for a past that never existed), but everyone loses. Especially the young.
Intelligent things have been said about the ramifications following the historic vote. Interpretations have been given on why the heads behind the Leave campaign don’t make good on their promise to invoke Article 50 right away and why Leave spearhead Boris Johnson didn’t look too happy leaving his house on Friday morning. Just read what Berlin-based Brit Jon Worth had to say during the last couple of days. With all that analysis already been given, I shall confine myself to three additional (non-UK related) lessons from Brexit:
1) Narcissistic EU institutions make matters worse
The EU, as any successful institutional system, has become overly narcissistic. To a degree, it’s a microcosm out of touch with the surrounding world. Don’t get me wrong: I have spent my entire professional career working in EU politics (mostly from outside Brussels), I love the city and its EU vibe. But when the EU’s institutions, and most importantly its individuals running it, find it increasingly unacceptable to listen to outside views, hire “outsiders”, or challenge themselves philosophically, there is something wrong with the system. Plus, the European Parliament, the only institution that could play a major role in restoring people’s trust in the EU, has a tendency to “inbred hiring”. Today’s EU is an easy target for any “scare campaign”.
2) We need stronger EU parliamentarians, not more EU leadership
There is a number of hard-working and consensus-driven European politicians from different political camps, like German liberal Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, who, for instance, doesn’t rely on the same old worn out platitudes when appearing on TV, or copyright reformer Julia Reda. But there are too few of them. Without doing away with controversial political debate, Europe needs stronger voices from the EP that primarily strive for the European common good, and are no slave to party politics. Obviously, the media has a central role to play in this as these voice should be heard all over the continent.
3) Old versus young
Let’s face it: The young, who voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, have been overruled by the old and their emotional response to THEIR fears (see chart). In all fairness, however, they have also turned out in lower numbers (see other chart).
Still we need to lower the voting age in both national elections and referenda. It is imperative to ask for the opinions of 16- and possibly even 14-year-olds when taking national decisions on fundamental issues such as Brexit. Younger people will always be the ones to bear the brunt of the decision.
In our digital age, younger people are also more inclined to make use of the full array of social/online media sources as a means to engage themselves with the issue at hand, thus rendering it more difficult for one side (aka The Sun in this case) to misinform.
Yes, “old-versus-young” is a potentially divisive force in society and needs to be handled with utmost political care. But not listening to great part of the young has lead to the same social division opposers of a lower voting age claim to prevent.