As UK Votes On Membership Of The EU...
“The great European dream was to diminish militant nationalism. We would all be happy Europeans together. But we are going to see the old monster of militant nationalism being awoken when people realize how little control their politicians have.”
- Anthony Beevor
At the time the respected British military-historian Anthony Beevor wrote the words quoted above, it is safe to assume that not even he would have contemplated the suddenness with which his prediction would come to pass. Stripped of all pretenses, there is no other way to describe what is happening in America and most Western Europe today.
On Thursday this week, the British are expected to decide on their continued membership of the European Union as we know it today. In the past several months an intensive debate between the Brits who prefer to remain in Europe and those who want out has captured the imagination of the world.
Two principal issues in the debate which reached a climaxed with the callous murder of the pro-Europe MP Jo Cox last week, are the state of the British economy and the vexing issue of immigration. Continued membership of the EU will leave Britain vulnerable to both legitimate and illegal immigration on a trend that the British economy can longer sustain. That is one of the sentiments frequently expressed by those who want out and the reason is understandable.
From the manner events have unfolded in the since 2004, it is apparent that the sentiments like that could arise sooner rather than later. As attractive as a single European market may be it was also all too obvious that the EU was never intended to be a poor countries club. Turkey’s frustrated ambitions to be admitted into the club provides sufficient confirmation of that factors other than the economic potential of nations are also crucial for eligibility.
Like the Financial Times has suggested, if the state of the economy were to be the primary consideration in the debate, the British should remain in Europe since membership of the EU has not significantly damaged or diminished its economy. According to the paper, since the UK joined the European Economic Community in 1973, it has done relatively well in economic terms compared to some of EU’s largest economies such as Germany, France and Italy.
No matter what the merits or demerits of the campaign of both sides may be, one fact that they both cannot dispute is that the enlargement of the EU in 2004 brought in an array of relatively poorer central and east European countries. The marked increase in migration into Britain from the same poorer east European countries, outpaced official forecasts.
It also generated concerns about the new arrivals and the strains they impacted on public services. Added to that was the potential for the change in demographic make-up of the British society as we know it. The psychopath who gruesomely murdered MP Jo Cox last week echoed pretty much the same sentiments when he was arraigned for the crime.
The chicken, it seems, are returning to haunt Britain and most of Western Europe in their present predicament. And they can expect little or no sympathy from me. For several centuries the powerful European nations ventured uninvited into Africa, Asia and even the America’s for the same economic considerations behind their rejection of immigrants today.
They shamelessly partitioned Africa and shared it among themselves without asking for our opinion. They stole our artefacts and exploited our natural resources for the benefit of their domestic economies. They fuelled their industrial revolution from the collective toil and sweat of their respective colonies. But today they have the temerity to reject immigrants driven by the wars their post-colonial legacies partially created.
But if morality counts for very little in international relations, I do not expect Britain or any other Western European power to have forgotten their history so soon. After all, like Anthony Beevor, correctly noted, the British Empire’s links with the world should be for better and for worse. The Empire, he insisted, made Britain what it is today. It formed its national identity. A country that does not understand its own history, he concluded, is unlikely to respect that of others.
A cursory look at political trends across the western hemisphere will reveal a disturbing trend. Most of the countries in Europe today have experienced a resurgence of xenophobic tendencies among right-wing politicians who proffer the ideas that are radically different from the ideals behind the Treaty of Rome, and much later, the European Union itself.
While most of the perspectives provided have outlined several economic scenarios, the driving force behind the politics of the far right parties are essentially racist and xenophobic. In the past such parties were hardly noticed, but we saw in the very close elections in recently concluded in Austria that their ideas are beginning to resonate with the broader spectrum of European societies. That is deeply troubling.
We have also seen in the emergence of Donald Trump that the concern is not restricted to Europe alone. Trump’s unrefined approach to politics and very unsettling demagoguery plays along the same sentiments. Today, in Europe and America, the challenge is how the world can unite to mitigate the damage of such shortsighted politicians.
As the British decide on their membership of the EU, I wonder if the stakes could have been so high were it not for other factors other than the economic well-being of the UK. Clearly, a series of unrelated events around the world are threatening to spark the much anticipated clash of civilizations many have written about in the past.
While the demographic composition of the UK, like most of the wealthier nations of Western Europe, has come under threat from accelerated immigration from Eastern Europe, the situation has been further compounded by the onslaught of shiploads of refugees from the Middle East and Africa with Muslim names and ways of worship.
No matter how hard they try to deny it, a mixture of the two is what has made the rhetoric of right-wing politicians like in France, Germany, and America so popular and enticing. It thrives on fear, especially of the unknown. Their message is that their societies, long founded on Judeo-Christian values, risked losing their identities to the new arrivals sooner, rather than later.
How the British vote on Thursday should provide a clue on as to the direction where they, along with the rest of the world, is headed in the attempt to build cohesive and mutually beneficial multi-ethnic societies. The UK politicians urging their countrymen to vote “YES” know that they cannot remain in Europe and expect to have a say in how their society shapes up in the long run.
Since they will have to operate along its essential protocols, the idea of Europe restricts their capacity to shape the UK in their own image. Europe strips them of a big say in the question of immigration especially if they cannot be sure of who is coming in. that is the bottom line. Let no one be deceived.