Can Europe Make It?

Another Brexit debate is possible


The mainstream Brexit debate has essentially been an argument between two branches of the Tory party, but there are shoots of hope arguing for a radical debate on Europe’s future.

Alex Sakalis
1 June 2016

Last year, openDemocracy predicted that the Brexit debate in the political and media mainstream would be framed as such: “Do we love business more than we hate immigrants, or do we hate immigrants more than we love business?”

And this is exactly what has happened, with one side arguing that leaving the EU will lead to economic collapse and the other side countering that remaining in the EU means that 76 million Turks will come streaming into the UK to breed like rabbits and cause crime.

Of course. It was never going to be easy having a worthwhile debate about membership of the EU in the twenty first century after decades of non- and disinformation. If only because the issues are many and complicated - see Eleanor Penny doing an absolutely sterling job of this here - but the mainstream diet of this campaign has been more like this (look at the third vid down) with… with no questions answered at all, just rumour, condescension, windbag assertion and a selfie!

On openDemocracy’s Brexit2016, we have taken a whole page to try to put some of the best arguments and counterarguments around. We have looked at the BBC’s awkward attempts at neutrality on the debate. We’ve criticised the Brexiters selective use of the word ‘sovereignty’. The ideological bankruptcy of the Tory Remain strategy. We’ve also respected the Lexit argument, and published socialist argument for Leave. On our Brexit Divisions page, we have looked at international perspectives on Brexit – from France to Denmark to Ireland.

But the mainstream Brexit debate has essentially been an argument between two branches of the Tory party, neither of whom have anything intelligent to share with their electorate. On the contrary, much of it has been what we need least since it is all we ever get, a degrading Politics of Fear.

But there are shoots of hope arguing for a radical debate on Europe’s future.

The narrow confines of the debate were blown open on Saturday, with the inaugural event of the Another Europe is Possible campaign. Arguing for a remain vote to radically change Europe, this young initiative played perfect host to Yanis Varoufakis’ DiEM25 movement, which argues for staying in the EU together for long enough to affect real change in Europe through a combination of public pressure, city level autonomy and “governmental disobedience within the European Union.”

So here are the links to that event, and below – a few of my favourite quotes from this vast array of coverage we've hosted on openDemocracy.

Anthony Barnett talks to Yanis Varoufakis

DiEM25 breakout session with Yanis Varoufakis, Mary Kaldor, James Schneider, Zoe Gardner and Paul Hilder

Another Europe is Possible opening plenary with Neal Lawson, Caroline Lucas, Clive Lewis, Owen Jones, Yanis Varoufakis

As with the mainstream media’s coverage of the general election, the basic underlying message is: this is complicated, only we can really understand what is happening, and you should vote for one side or another of the establishment position, on its terms – for the national interest, for competitiveness, for the ability to exploit foreign markets and labour. 

Michael Chessum - The BBC is failing to ask the big questions about the EU referendum

There is an obvious reason that no Tory politician would cite the Social Charter as a reason for the British electorate to vote to remain in the EU.

John Weeks - The Tory 'remain' strategy is based on fear and selfishness

The EU suffers from many challenges, but its relationship with the UK is the only one that requires a surgeon.

Koldo Casla - Open letter from a Eurocitizen living in London: Brits, vote for Brexit

We have also received some excellent comments on articles from you. On Jan Zielonka's Brexit referendum folly, Rupert Wolfe Murray writes:

This is the best article I have seen on the disastrous EU Referendum. He is critical of both sides and has pointed out some home truths that go beyond the debate and the vote: Britain's precedent in negotiating changes has opened a Pandora's Box (now all nations are demanding changes; discipline and respect have been lost). His conclusion is spot on: "the EU referendum in Great Britain is a step in a wrong direction, no matter what the result."


The key feature of this kind of "debate" is blame: there is a hate figure (EU, Westminster) that people can focus their anger on and blame all their ills on. It boils down to the basic precept: if we can get rid of this hate figure all will be well.


The only way forward is consensus. At a local and international level. Plus transparency. With these two essentials we could reform local and international government.

On Luke Cooper's article, A different Europe or bust, Tom K writes: 

I think having a conversation about the progressive potential of the EU is a really important and difficult conversation to be had. Perhaps it is one that may ignite a renewed interest in a left politics that sees beyond the nation-state not toward the hegemonic globalisation but toward a democratic internationalism.

- a comment which encapsulates the kind of debate we have been trying to foster here on openDemocracy.

And this comment on "Brexit": the real threat to globalization by Bulent Gokay actually spawned an article of its own.

Vassilis, I agree with you on many of your commnets on the impact of Brexit on Britain as a whole, and on British SMEs, and even on the European project in general, but I strongly disagree with your usage of globalisation/ financialisation here. If you remember how you and I used and explained these terms in our 2012 co-authored book, The Fall of the US Empire, where we explain neoliberal financialisation/ globalisation as a key dimension of US neo-imperial relations globally. Our approach we developed in that volume and in other places since then, our global-faultlines argument, is more heuristic and all-encompassing than just a significant shift in the European zone.


Already major changes in global political economy are underway, not because of the shifts in or potential withdrawals from the 'European project', but mainly because of the major movements in the global faultlines, which essentially caused the 2007-08 global crisis.


As we spelled in the ending our book in 2012, 'Whatever the future developments will bring, one thing is perfectly clear to us: as it transpires that the imperial order is shifting from the West to the East, the world today is too complicated for any single power to dominate it.' European Union is still an important actor in the global picture, but not the center of it. The center of gravity has already moved, shifted to the East.

In addition, Anthony Barnett has been writing a whole book on the debate - Blimey, it could be Brexit? - which we have been releasing in weekly chapter-by-chapter instalments. The chapters have provoked a perceptive discussion among our readers, and some of your best comments are captured here.

And we still have the Euro 2016 tournament to come, where England, Wales and Northern Ireland will be fighting to stay in Europe at the same time as UK voters will be voting whether to leave. We already have some fascinating insight into this uncanny situation, and openDemocracy will be there, along with the tournament, to make sense of these strange, Brexit times.

Get weekly updates on Europe A thoughtful weekly email of economic, political, social and cultural developments from the storm-tossed continent. Join the conversation: get our weekly email


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData