The populist Italian 5 Star Movement’s spirit of European solidarity barely lasted a few hours. It completely evaporated at the European Parliament’s emergency session on Tuesday, when the majority of members — 5 Star Movement MEPs not included — voted to approve a resolution that asks Britain to withdraw from the EU “as soon as possible.” Why would we delay, if the people have clearly expressed their wishes? Everyone, especially their leaders, must take action and obey their will.
During their speeches, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and Syed Kamall, president of the European Conservatives and Reformists — the same Eurosceptic group to which David Cameron belongs — it became clear that their strategy is to try and unload the burden of the economic backlash unleashed by Brexit onto European citizens.
In other words, if there is widespread confusion across the EU, the tumult in the UK will lose some of its power and, more importantly, some of its leverage.
It is not a coincidence that Farage himself admitted outright in the European Parliament that his goal was to “cut a sensible tariff-free deal” in place of the “rotten” deal that Britain has now.
This is manipulation. They are trying to force the European Union to accept Great Britain as a participant in the European market, with special tariff privileges and without the obligation to partake in its political institutions. In short, they believe that Great Britain should be able to take advantage of all of the benefits of the EU without being bound to the legal foundation of its unity and integration.
The strategy right now — supported by the Eurosceptic minority — seems to be to provoke uncertainty and deepen the economic disaster created by the UK.
Farage’s statement in Parliament was clear and blunt. The example set by Farage and Bepe Grillo’s Eurosceptic political group, Europe of Freedom and Democracy, will be followed by every other Eurosceptic, including Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini. They are all in no rush to start exit negotiations. What does it matter to them if this delay will hurt Italian and French families and businesses?
The anti-establishment fury of the Eurosceptic right does not answer to anyone, not even their fellow countrymen. How else can you explain the views of Grillo and Lega Nord supporters? They are contributing to the slow distortion of the idea of Europe into an embodiment of absolute evil.
The strategy right now — supported by the Eurosceptic minority — seems to be to provoke uncertainty and deepen the economic disaster created by the UK. It will only result in self-inflicted wounds.
It is a shame that the parties of the radical left (the Group of the European United Left and Syriza) have not realized what is at stake here; they have also voted against the resolution that was approved by the majority, despite recognizing the urgency of requiring Britain to immediately invoke Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.
The games have begun, and there are already some risks ahead. The first concerns public opinion, which will turn against an already-fragile Europe. Also at risk is the process of reforming the EU itself. If the national interests that lie at the heart of the EU-UK negotiations are not addressed, how can we reform the European government? Losing sight of certain political realities will not help defend the common house that is the EU, nor work towards the goal of restructuring it.
This is a real and difficult debate. The resolution put forward by socialist, democratic, populist, liberal and green parties was accepted by the majority. Now it is up to the European Council to test its persuasive abilities against the British government.
Let us not be delusional; the summer will be over before negotiations even begin. But the member-states could still send an important message and dispel doubts about any future deals, one which would emphasize that you cannot benefit from the market without paying important dues — as is the case with Norway — and that remaining within the EU is a privilege and not a sacrifice.
This post first appeared on HuffPost Italy. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.
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