Brexit: So, what next? – Nikos-Pavlos Kotzias, Greece

EU Referendum - Signage And Symbols

This week, the UK is set to vote on whether to stay in the EU. For the time being, it seems that a close majority wants to leave. Why?

The circumstances that may have led to this choice cannot be concisely explained, because this is the result of a “feeling”, not a single, strictly-defined event. The sense is that is a mixture of the perception that the EU has failed us, combined with empty threats from both #Leave and #Remain camps, machiavellism and the UK snubbing the EU, with an added sense of lone ranger adventurism.

Rare coherent arguments from either side have lost any real influence or meaning because people tend to be drawn to a position just to disagree with (or show loyalty to) a bigger idea, instead of actually examining the evidence or questions at hand. Both sides have valid cases, but have failed to present them in a direct and democratic manner for the everyday Briton to form an informed opinion. David Cameron is pro-EU because he has to be, based on prior commitments – and the same applies to anti-EU activists. In this political and moral dilemma of a referendum, many people have formed their opinion based on vague and emotional arguments, insisting that they are aware of the complexities of the issues, while the reality is that most non-specialists cannot be even if they expend serious effort.

For example, the UK may contribute £12 billion annually to the EU budget, but this seems reasonable compared to £116 billion for the NHS and £214 billion for social benefits. If we employ the logic of cost cutting and mercenary aims people might be better off killing their grandparents or not going to hospital – but of course nobody thinks like this about other decisions.

If Britons choose to stay, not many things will change. It will definitely be a wake-up call for the EU and possibly a window into changes in its structure, but we can be a little more sure of the potential outcome if this is the way the referendum swings. Maybe nothing will happen and the EU will stay on its collision course, just with added snobbism towards the UK. Maybe it will lead to more democracy, transparency and efficiency. Maybe a bit of both.

However, if the UK chooses to leave, madness will ensue, meaning that since nothing like this has happened before, all sides will be paralyzed on how to adjust to the new reality. We really cannot tell if it will be for the better for the both sides, or if it will lead to self-destruction. There are so many factors and parameters one has to take into account, that not even universities and political analysts have managed to untangle the web of possibilities and alternate realities.

What we do know, in fact, is that a Brexit would not be instantaneous. The UK would not leave the EU overnight, but rather take months and in some areas years of negotiations to return to its ante-EU state, while still retaining some of its benefits. What we also know is that it will be disastrous for the EU, giving ground to every Eurosceptic to argue – understandably – that it has failed. And let’s be a honest, a Brexit is a failure. Given the way the situation within Europe seems to be going, an event like that would only add fuel to the fire of those who tend to believe that we were better off (even if this is not true) before the EU, namely far-right parties.

It will be a slap in the faces of those who want to see the EU as an institution with influence, the bourgeoisie in international politics, possibly a remnant of ye olde imperialism. A Brexit will hurt the image of Europe overseas, a Europe that has been the subject of much criticism from outsiders – something that those overly concerned with public perception cannot allow to happen.

But interestingly, this whole Brexit thing has had a certain impact on Europeans all over. It opened the way for a democratic and fair dialogue on how to proceed, how to keep Europe intact, how to achieve what has not been achieved so far. A dialogue that should have started many years ago. Finally, people are starting to realize that they need to act on a Europe-wide level. The elections for the European Parliament in 2014 were largely a failure, with a turnout of a mere 42.54%, at odds with opinion polls that show most people are pro-EU and believe in democracy. So, since when is democracy something that interests the “others” and not us? Heck, some people don’t even know what the EU does and how it works. How do we expect to achieve anything under this mentality, really?

Europe is not under threat, regardless of what many want us to believe. Refugees will not destroy our “pure” European societies and create chaos out of nowhere. They are a challenge, but not a threat. Maybe in reality the problem is that all Europeans like fancy, inspirational words about a “United, Proud and Strong Europe”, but have done little towards that, believing that a divine force, a euphemism for governments maybe, will make it happen like a magic trick. Is this realistic though? There are still many stereotypes circulating around, much distrust towards other nations and a total confusion on what these words actually mean. Which is my point exactly. Europe is not failing to exist; but it is failing to go a step further from fancy talks in fancy rooms with fancy and important people. It has failed to be omnipresent on the streets, in our everyday lives, in our heart. It has failed to act enough.

In general, Brexit is a matter of how you feel about the future. If you want to stay, you prefer logic. If you want to leave, you want to trust your guts. Because, really, no one knows what will happen no matter what the outcome is. Only time will tell. Let us hope it will be for the better, as Europe has many challenges to face, more than ever before.

This week, we will know.

Here’s a chart prepared by the Financial Times to help you keep up to date with all the polls and events:

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