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The Political Consequences of the Brexit

Photo: PublicDomainPictures.net, Petr Kratochvil / http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=165944

Britain has voted to leave the European Union. Assistant Professor of European Global Studies Teresa Pullano discusses the political consequences of the Brexit.

It is no exaggeration to say that yesterday's vote on leaving or remaining in the European Union by the United Kingdom is a historic moment and a clear rupture in the process of integration. With 52% votes in favour of "leave", the UK will be the first member state to quit the Union. Tendencies of disintegration are not anymore subterranean or marginal, but they are now a reality that the remaining 27 Member States need to face from now on.

It still unclear how the result of the referendum and therefore the procedure of withdrawing from the EU will be handled by the British government. Both the current, and resigning, Prime Minister David Cameron, head of the "remain" camp, and its main rival from the "leave" camp, Boris Johnson, were very cautious in starting the official procedure that consists in invoking art. 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. But one thing is sure: the impact of the vote and its political consequences are unavoidable at this point.

The process of European integration is not anymore characterised by the "permissive consensus" allowing European elites to go forward with their own vision of Europe without taking into account the opinion of the citizens. The differentiation among and within Member States, on the level of economic conditions, social rights and political integration, has gone too far over the last decade of EU policies. The Eurozone crisis that opened up in 2009 has shown how dramatic divisions among marginal and central Member States over the economic and political space of the continent could be, with Greece experiencing an extremely intense worsening of the conditions of life of the majority of its citizens.

The map of the Brexit vote also shows a deeply geographically divided country. The richest areas, such as London and Scotland, were massively for "remain", whereas suburban and peripheral areas were in general for "leave". The uneven geographical and social development that has been accentuated internally and at the level of the continent by the last ten year of EU policies is supporting disintegration and nationalist forces all over Europe. Social rights, class divisions and regional cleavages are at the core of the current problems that EU institutions and leaders have to face.

Politics has entered the arena in a bold manner with the British referendum, and the dissenting voices that it was still possible to ignore are now a clear political problem for Europe. The dissent expressed by the Greek voters with the referendum on the bailout conditions of Greece of July, 5, 2015, were ignored by EU institutions. Greece is a small country with a reduced economic and political weight within the EU. When dissenting voices are coming from one of the major economic and political power in Europe, it is definitely time to open up our eyes. Politics, and politicisation, is now investing the European common house. It is time, also for social scientists, as well as for all citizens, to start finding new ways of making sense of what is happening.