Disaffection with the EU is at historic highs, not only in your country. It is hard to imagine an EU much weaker and more on the defensive than the one we have right now. Anyone who cares about the EU’s future — and I would put myself in that camp — should not defend the status quo but cry out for change and for policies that will at long last take citizens and their concerns seriously. As a free market project, the EU has accentuated the cleavage between winners and losers of economic competition. The ill-conceived single currency has done the same. Counterbalancing initiatives for a social Europe have largely remained toothless — not for the least part due to British obstinacy.
What about the feared cascade of Euroscepticism? That, too, is based on the naive and dangerous idea that in principle, the EU is in good shape. That Euroscepticism all over the continent will blow over by itself. Rather than praying that the UK doesn’t rock the boat too much and otherwise stay the course, European elites should make re-engaging citizens their top priority. If that means killing some of Brussels’ political darlings — TTIP comes to mind — then so be it.--Daniel Mügge "An open letter to David Cameron"
Because I work in political science these days, I start with a prediction: the remain vote will prevail tomorrow. The leave vote will not overcome the status quo bias inherent in all electorates. In particular, in an ugly campaign, it has failed to generate a positive vision for England’s future; I use ‘England’ because everybody knows that [CORRECTED]*** leave will lead to dissolving of the United Kingdom with Scotland joining Europe. The campaign has been primarily about fear (to simplify: remain scaremongers about the economy; leave scaremongers about immigrants). But if the choice is between two kinds of fear, voters will choose the devil they know, even if she is a boring technocrat. Such status quo bias is so strong that when Scottish voters were offered a more attractive, youthful and enthusiastic campaign they could not bring themselves to jump on the train to the future.
Mügge's "Open Letter" is officially directed at David Cameron, but in reality to the "European elites."* That's part of the problem here. He is asking for leadership -- a 'leap of faith' and boldness-- from institutions that have been designed to prevent such leaps. Europe is originally a project to prevent war between Germany and France, and to prevent the democratic generation of authoritarian leadership by both curtailing the power of electorates as well as by promoting liberal economic values that help prevent zero-sum logic of modern statecraft. For, the truth is that electorates can always be tempted by projects that combine intensified nationalism and socialism, especially in periods of economic decline (and inflation) and cultural insecurity. Once electorates are so tempted, it is very hard to reverse.
That is to say, that from the start, the European Union is a moral project with a commitment to peace not war [that is not trivial--for the previous centuries European states had been imperial war-making enterprises; the United States still is a war-making machine] and the blessings that follow from shared, economic enrichment. The Union was designed to be a decisive veto on any member state's backsliding into variants of fascism. There were competing interpretations of what the previous sentence entails, but -- under the umbrella leadership of Pax Americana -- for a long time there was considerable overlap among the Christian Democratic, Social Democratic, (classically) Liberal, and even Romantic-Conservative bits of the electorates and elites over the fundamentals of this moral vision. But in recent times, the EU played nice with the would-be-fascists in its midst (Haider in Austria, Orban in Hungary, and now an increasing number of states). France has been operating under a state of emergency and not a word of protest from those that are supposed to protect our values and the rule of law. Unsurprisingly, our fascist neighbors (Putin, Erdogan) got the message.** What's needed then is a vision to renew the moral framework of the Union.
Such an moral vision is absent in Mügge's letter. This is clear from his analysis. I quote the key paragraph:
The real threat to the European project is not potential Brexit but European inability to take the bold steps that will be necessary to mend its broken economic governance. If it is to survive, the single currency will need stronger political and redistributive props. It will require much deeper democratic legitimitacy [sic] through the European parliament — the kind of sovereignty transfer that is so dreaded in the UK. All these reforms ask for a leap of faith, a commitment to make the union whole. They ask for the opposite of the grudging veto player that your country will be if Remain wins by anything but a landslide.
I do not disagree with Mügge's general sense ("depressing sight;" the lack of "pride" etc.) that there is a European malaise (recall here, here, and here, although I was struck that Mügge never mentions immigration, terrorism, and refugees). But the real threat is not broken economic governance (and it is broken); that's a symptom of the malaise not its root cause. The real problem is not the purported lack of legitimacy of the European parliament. A squabbling European parliament that ends up being filled with nationalist, mutually antagonistic euro-skeptics (with a shared loathing of immigrants and cultural elites) will not generate legitimacy or a desirable union. History teaches that parliaments earn their legitimacy by channeling the interests and powers that they represent to the greater good.
The European Union is an experiment in the formation of a new kind of multi-national empire. It was always committed to a rhetoric of progress toward a closer union. To sustain it requires not just a robust economy and the rule of law, but also ongoing moral and political education of its citizens and would be citizens. The enemies of this union know that they win if they can keep the discussion focused on (rather awful) values. That there are ‘too many foreigners’ in the UK (Holland, France, Poland, etc. even countries without statistically significant number of foreigners) taps into core values related to safety, security and identity, and fear of the unknown. To forfeit values means one cannot explain what the aim of progress would be. If we are incapable of embracing a shared transcendent religion, then a civic religion has to provide the (axiological) framework that allows us to battle the forces that promote the rise of an authoritarian, nationalist-socialist outlook that embraces violence and exclusion as central features of a unified way of life.
Europe can survive tomorrow's results. It cannot survive its descent into hollowness.
*Full disclosure: Mügge is a department colleague!
**This is not to deny that Turkish accession talks have been badly handled by the EU.
***Thank you Jennifer Saul