“Austerity led to British leave vote” Opinion by Miguel Martinez Tomey on #Brexit

News / 30.6.16

To understand the British decision to leave the European Union, the drift towards neo-liberalism and “re-naturalization”, which has swept over Europe in recent times, must be taken into account.

In British society, there has always existed a distinctive distrust towards continental affairs, and therefore, towards the EU. British history has been dominated by a never-ending debate between involvement in continental affairs or detachment in “splendid isolation”, an idyllic self-sufficiency. Even the Empire itself appeared to be conceived to maintain this, creating a reserved space for itself at the global level, yet fortifying an impossible mercantilist autarky with respect to the rest of Europe. 

The Second World War and decolonization paved the way for the integration of the United Kingdom into Europe’s economic union project, which fostered solidarity between Europeans and a political structure to confront global challenges together. When the UK acceded to the Common Market in 1973, it had the basic form of a customs union with normative power in order to facilitate exchange. In fact, the solidarity derived from a limited, but unmistakable projection at the European level towards concepts and institutions of the welfare state based on stability and prosperity, as Europe had to recuperate from the traumas and destruction caused by fascism, and build a stronghold against the communist bloc during the Cold War.

At this time, Spain was still an abnormality, tolerated internationally, despite the fact that the rest of the continent had already eradicated fascism. We sought to leave behind Franco’s dictatorship, and with it, the backwardness, poverty and isolation. Europe represented the possibility of ending our regression inherited from the Inquisition and autarky. This included not only the transition to democracy comparable to that of other European states, but also something that was considered inseparable to democracy; a welfare state. Joining the European Community was a recognition and approval of this aspiration, shaping Article 1 of the 1978 Constitution: “Spain is established as a social and democratic State, subject to the rule of law…”


Austerity lead to brexit - centre maurits coppieters - miguel martinez Tomey


However, with the end of the Cold War and the arrival of a new, globalized world, in which neo-liberal capitalism could reap the fruits of its victory against communism, a fracture in Europe’s social democracy – a compromise between American capitalism and Soviet communism – began to emerge. With the end of the Delors era in 1995, Europe’s secure, prosperous and civilizing social democracy was being further questioned. The EU, which was designing its economic and monetary union, was “re-naturalized” by a process led by new conservative, liberal and socialist governments, which have dominated European institutions ever since.

The rejection of a social Europe resulted in today’s economic recipes. The crisis impacted the economic and monetary union, which was custom-made by the new liberal-conservative paradigm. Its effects were devastating for the most vulnerable social classes; workers, people with small savings, as well as small and medium-sized enterprises. At the same time, institutions of solidarity and redistribution of wealth that constitute the welfare state, were also being undermined. The governments of EU Member States had no shame in justifying their “austericide” policies during their mandates in Brussels. The very same governments that once gave citizens hope in a world full of violence and exploitation, have became an impersonal capitalist empire that allow pirates that guard their loot in fiscal paradises to proliferate.

In each country, people look for the “exit door” in their own way, according to their perceptions and historical experiences. In places where fascism had been crushed, the far right calls on the hopeless to protect themselves within their “true nation”, xenophobia, as well as racial, mental, cultural and political uniformity. We tend to break the cycle with populist, neo-communist and neo-centralist alternatives, even though in some corners, the exit doors are looking towards independence. But the British have always harbored a nostalgia for the past, a memory of an island in which one could shut oneself off, confident that the 32 km stretch of sea between Calais and Dover will free them from the convulsions suffered by the rest of the world. The force of dissatisfaction with abuses, combined with the notion of an idyllic, lost homeland, explains why the fog has settled on the English Channel and “the continent has been left isolated” once again.

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Opinion piece by Miguel Martinez Tomey, Treasurer of Centre Maurits Coppieters and officer responsible for European Affairs for the Chunta Aragonesista party. Original article published in Heraldo de Aragón on 27 June 2017.