One month ago, I boarded a plane headed towards London for a semester abroad. By stepping into the cabin of my Delta airliner, I was leaving one country where the incoming administration was producing a political climate clouded by uncertainty and entering another where the prospect of future European cooperation appeared dismal. At this point in time, the United Kingdom’s “Brexit” moment was the equivalent of the United States’s Donald Trump moment. Both represented the wavering fragility of our current geopolitical state.
Yet, today, I find my preconceived notions wrong ― on one account at least: Brexit was not the United Kingdom’s Donald Trump moment. While President Trump exhibits authoritarian tendencies, Brexit represents a call for democratic reform.
The European Union was originally devised to bring forth unparalleled peace and prosperity across Europe. Since its conception, the EU has seemingly accomplished its initial goal, but, overtime, has grown in its legislative scope. As it stands today, the EU is a dauntingly large and complex political structure. Comprised of 14 separate institutions, the EU now functions as a sort of European regulatory body, shaping monetary, economic, labor, and social policy; military might; and the whole gamut. As European political power grows unbridledly in Brussels, national sovereignty becomes challenged, dislocating the citizenry from their government. The Conservative party put it succinctly when asking opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, “Who are you?” when speaking on behalf of the European Council.
“Who are you?” is the question many British ponder. Who is my member of the European Parliament? Who speaks on my behalf in the European Council? What is the European Council? The structure, duties, and representation of the European Union is a mystery to most people across the United Kingdom. Granted, this lack of knowledge is certainly not a product of sheer ignorance; schools do not educate students about the EU, and the media fails to inform the public about the EU. The large regulatory body is shrouded largely in allure.
One barrier to proper representation is the absence of EU office-seekers’ European legislative agendas. In the United Kingdom, European parliamentary elections are perceived as an opportunity for voters to express their opposition against the presiding national government. For instance, if the Conservatives hold the majority in the House of Commons at the time of the election, Labour voters will come out in droves on election day. In this regard, these elections are similar to the U.S. midterms. It is national political vengeance driving voters to their polling station, not candidates’ European agenda. Office-seekers understand this reality and run their campaign upon national issues, lacking regard for European issues. This ultimately gives full reign, with no political accountability, to Members of the European Parliament. These elected members should certainly not be held in contempt, but they fail to represent the peoples’ desired European agenda.
The news media is also at fault for a suffering democratic representation in the European Union. The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism recently published an intensive study highlighting the role of the news media within the European Union. Reuters posits that “news editors and producers [have come] to view European stories as boring for readerships and viewers…and in some cases suffered from a lack of understanding of the issues and mechanisms under discussion.” While, understandably, the media is a consumer-driven enterprise where profits rise when consumers are satisfied, the press ought to have a civic obligation to inform the public about affairs impacting lives, despite whether the press deems them exciting. Furthermore, the news media should not allow the intellectual laziness of some to affect the intellectual standards of others. As for the press’ lack of understanding about the EU, this reflects the EU’s dire conundrum. With these factors considered, there has been a continuous “shrinkage…of the permanent correspondent corps based in Brussel.”
The concern about the educational drought regarding the European Union’s affairs is the EU has tangible and consequential effects upon British lives. Often, EU law even supersedes national law. Yet, despite the EU’s significance, the people lack proper representation, which has led critics to charge the EU with a democratic deficit. On June 23, 2016, it is only fair to say that citizens across the United Kingdom had legitimate grievances to air. Nonetheless, am I confident that everyone who voted for Brexit did so for these reform-minded reasons? No, I am not. Was Brexit the most rational way to correct this imperfect supranational institution? Again, probably not. But, for the people of the United Kingdom it was the most expedient. This radical referendum underscores the deeper European problem: with a turbulent world, through thoughtful reform, the European Union must become stronger and more representative of its people.
A united Europe is a stronger Europe, and a stronger Europe assures a steadfast commitment to a united world. Thankfully, Prime Minister Theresa May understands this indisputable truth and has performed flawlessly in wrangling with the extraordinary job she has been tasked with. Her calm, confident, and inspiring rhetoric has given stability to a calamitous world. She has listened to the will of the British people and ensures an “independent, self-governing, global Britain” will rise from Brexit’s aftermath.
It is quite possible that, without improper representation and bureaucratic dues, coupled with the securing of trade agreements with the United States and the European Union, Brexit will afford the British greater prosperity. But, while the UK’s future is speculative, the EU’s future is certain. Brexit will force the European Union to reevaluate its dampened democratic status quo. This shaking up of the way-things-are should bode as a time of expectation for Europeans, not one of dread.