It is no secret that the European Union has faced serious existential challenges in the past decade. The rise of euroscepticism has been significant, particularly in the most industrialised member countries. Despite the sentiment that the EU isn't perfect, the UK referendum on leaving the union, otherwise known as Brexit, was seen largely as a pipe dream even weeks ago. The victory for Leave, by a narrow margin of course, was unexpected to say the least. I spent hours last night being astonished with the results as they came in. It is, most importantly, the manifestation of a populist neoliberal movement that is reshaping the values of ordinary Europeans - one that might very well have a similar impact in the United States in November.
The rise of euroscepticism, which is defined as a political movement that opposes the mechanisms of the European Union or the more general scope of the European Project, has been sharp of late. Economic and social crises (Syrian refugees, Greek markets, etc) have had a massive political impact. In the past election cycle the European Parliament as well as national assemblies have seen rapid growth in right-wing populist parties, generally groups with very nationalist rhetoric. This is the case in both advanced EU counrties like France and in smaller, newer member states like Hungary.
There are two thrusts behind the Brexit movement. The first is related to economic sovereignty. As austerity has come to damage the UK increasingly with higher unemployment, the European Union has been regarded as a foreign mechanism that ties the hands of London. The second is straightforward xenophobia in the face of increasing immigration both to and within the European Union. Naturally, the former argument was less of a concern during the campaign as the focus, largely, was the discourse that immigrants were taking away jobs and services from British nationals.
While I oppose the very nature of the European Union myself, it is not on the grounds by which Leave campaign based their case. I see the EU as a system designed to promote the free movement of goods and labour in the interest of advancing neoliberal capitalism at the expense of the social-democratic model. In fact, this system works so well that European companies are extremely competitive both domestically and in foreign markets. This is at the expense of European governments and citizens who are increasingly taking on the tax burdens of corporate entities, hence the massive austerity programmes.
Much like in America, there is a hollowing out of the once-stable progressive centrist movements. Extreme left-wing and right-wing organisations have become ever the more popular of late, not limited to the United Kingdom Independence Party, which essentially spearheaded last night's victory.
The future of the European Union and the United Kingdom hang in the balance at present. There is no precedent for leaving the EU and of course the UK is not the only nation dealing with massive euroscepticism. The next few months will be trying times as all parties involved try to forge new trajectories.