Lorenzo & his humble friends

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool

Tag: brexit

Sit up and take note

In June I anticipated something, right after the Brexit referendum results where known:

This is [now] the terrible responsibility of European leaders who have an interest in containing populist movements in their countries: they are obliged to make sure that for the British the process of leaving is painful. Because if it is not, it will make it even the more tempting for populist movements in Italy, France, Hungary, and the rest of Europe to loosen their ties with the European Union

That post was followed by a fine debate where James argued that trade interests would ultimately trump hard political considerations:

The likelihood of the EU attempting to ‘punish’ the UK to set a precedent is low. France and Germany, who enjoy strong trade surpluses with the UK, will quickly come under pressure from their own exporters for assurances about bilateral access. Indeed, German car manufacturers are already calling for minimal trade restrictions between the UK and EU. Unelected officials and commentators are more likely to call for blood. The consensus: some ‘retributive’ symbolism but little action.

Indeed, Germany has a lot at stake: the UK is Germany’s third-largest export market. In fact, senior German officials had initially hinted that the UK might be granted generous access to the single market if it made concessions on free movement. But that was before a nasty turn in the Tory party. Following some horrific declarations made by her fellows at the party conference in Birmingham last week, Theresa May indicated that she prioritises immigration curbs over single market. Her speech hardened the mood on Brexit in the rest of Europe and this week the Financial Times published an article “that should make Brexiters sit up and take note.”, reporting on the last meeting of Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande and Jean-Claude Juncker in Berlin. The core part of the article goes like this:

Digital issues were the main topic. But of course Brexit could not be avoided. One executive cheekily explained that he had been lobbied by Britain to stress the importance of preserving good economic ties, to make clear that while Britain was leaving the EU, the benefits of the single market should not be totally sacrificed. Leaving aside the “I was lobbied” disclosure, this is the kind of intervention Brexiters had long envisaged would be decisive. German industry would weigh in and Chancellor Merkel would tell the EU to cut a favourable Brexit deal.

The first reply came from the French president and it amounted to a traditional defence of core single market principles. Then the chancellor spoke. Ms Merkel explained that she had at first wavered over this issue. But she was now convinced there was no alternative. She agreed with Mr Hollande. Any special deal would be dangerous. Giving up the union’s principles would threaten the existence of the EU itself. According to one guest at the table, Mr Juncker then intervened in slightly theatrical fashion: “all of you here should listen very carefully to what the president of the French Republic and German Chancellor just said.”

German Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel joined Angela Merkel in saying the EU shouldn’t give in to the U.K.’s demands that would, he warned, effectively result in “selling-out Europe.” And today François Hollande has reiterated the message that Britain “will have to pay a heavy price for leaving the European Union“.

Brexit will be a long process and the final outcome remains wide open. A prominent EU diplomat put it this way: both sides would probably be better off if they worked together, while both would lose out from a disorderly exit. But in the end the temptation to screw the other side might prove too much. The prisoner’s dilemma goes on.

Update, 12/10: some Members of the British Parliament who seem to live in the nineteenth century are not making things easier.


Out means out

Previously on this blog I have advocated dialogue with our political opponents as opposed to talking contemptuously about them. The outburst following the Brexit referendum has shown that this is not happening. Sure, I too was frustrated, shocked, and disgusted. But let us try to refrain from casting those who voted Leave as a whole bunch of idiot, ignorant, out-of-tune voters. In fact, if you are feeling upset by the situation imposed by people whose values you don’t share, you might now understand how UKIP, Lega Nord, Front national voters have felt in the past. Reading the tweets and messages shared by many of my friends, I cannot help but fully endorsing these lines from the Spectator: ‘there is now a lot of hatred directed towards the millions of people who voted Leave. Yet clearly not everyone who voted Leave is a racist thicko, just like not every immigrant is a jihadi. There are legitimate concerns on both sides of the debate, but I do not see how it is helpful to characterise millions of people in this way. At its worst, it can seem like a language that the privileged use to sneer at the poor: a kind of moral snobbery‘. This pretty much summarizes what I wrote (in Italian) shortly after the results were known, quoting my friend Old Tom: ‘believing in democracy doesn’t require you to agree with the people, trust the people, or even like the people; It only requires you to respect everyone’s right to choose – including the one to choose the bad over the good. Democracy is not perfect, nor indeed pretends to be so. And yet there is much to praise about a system under which everyone, for better or worse, has a say on common matters, and whose legitimacy rests upon the possibility of exercising that right. Even if it occasionally breaks your heart‘. Or, as it was brilliantly put by the defeated contender for the Democratic Party candidate in the 1966 election to the California State Senate Dick Tuck, ‘The people have spoken, the bastards!‘.

Now – I am equally depressed to see repeated calls to somehow reverse the result of the referendum. This is plainly wrong – for two reasons. First, imagine if Leave were saying that: you would be horrified, wouldn’t you? Second, there is a terrible twist with this result that must now be acknowledged: it is in the most rational interest of many political leaders in Europe to give the United Kingdom a very rough ride. Put it more bluntly, the political elites on the southern side of the English channel will have to consider that the perfidious Albion must feel the pain for this decision. And it is not about hard feelings: it is about rational political choices. In fact, British political leaders who say they will keep the London in the single market are missing a crucial point: it is just like as if I stop paying the fees for my tennis club, but keep getting in and out for free. Out means out. This is the terrible responsibility of European leaders who have an interest in containing populist movements in their countries: they are obliged to make sure that for the British the process of leaving is painful. Because if it is not, it will make it even the more tempting for populist movements in Italy, France, Hungary, and the rest of Europe to loosen their ties with the European Union. If leaving costs you nothing, then why not to try? Or, as a French diplomat explained last week, ‘If we say you are outside the EU but can keep all of the advantages, access to the single market without any solidarity, it’s a terrible message for the rest of the EU‘. This is the cruel reason why the Brexit vote forces the rest of Europe to close ranks and hit the British as hard as possible. The alternative is disintegration. After all, no tennis would could survive if members could stop paying the fees but continued to benefit from all the advantages coming with it.


Brexit: a new beginning?

Non ho parole, quindi mi limito a condividere commenti intelligenti.


Jean-Thomas. How did Churchill say again? If you cannot stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Marie. And here is what happens when mainstream parties structure their political project on populist narratives. Congratulations to the Tories for creating a monster they can no longer control.

Old Tom. Ti dico la verità: dipende. Dipende da che piega prende la cosa. E’ chiaro che se passa la linea Farage è la fine. O la linea May, che è molto più insidiosa. E’ abbastanza chiaro che i Brexiter hanno almeno due visioni incompatibili. Da un lato c’è un nazionalismo little englander tendenzialmente protezionista e populista, molto anti-establishment e anti-londinese. Dall’altro c’è l’idea di trasformare UK in una specie di Singapore. O una super-Svizzera. Queste visioni NON sono conciliabili e fanno riferimento a costituency del tutto diverse. Per come la vedo io Farage è da un lato dello spettro, Johnson dall’altro. Osborne ora si ricollocherà con Johnson.

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Cristiano. Sinceramente sono contento che il Regno Unito sia uscito dalla UE. In primo luogo perche’ non e’ possibile che esista un paese che vuole stare dentro la UE e allo stesso tempo continua a pretendere concessioni. E in secondo luogo perche’ finalmente sara’ possibile vedere le conseguenze dell’uscita di un paese dal sistema comunitario: se affonda, smetteremo di ascoltare lo stronzo di turno che ci spiega come si stava meglio quando si viveva con una moneta che non valeva nulla; se rinasce, allora sara’ la dimostrazione che la comunita’ europea e’ ormai un grande sistema burocratico che deve essere riformato.


Out ‘n Proud?

Ho scritto un articolo piuttosto didascalico sul referendum per la permanenza nell’Unione Europea previsto nel Regno Unito per il 23 giugno. Se avete voglia di leggerlo potreste scoprire una o due cose divertenti e poco conosciute. Il link all’articolo è questo.