Waking up in Europe today, it is hard not feel a sense disbelief. Britain’ decision to leave the EU is very troublesome and creates more uncertainty in world that is already unstable. This vote undermines the entire European project that has sought greater integration since the Second Word War – a project established to prevent the continent from spiraling into devastating genocidal wars.
While Britain’s may have rejected it, the EU has stood for Liberal values (values based on liberty and equality born of the Enlightenment) that the “Exit” voters claim to be losing. It is why nations like Estonia, Czechoslovakia (today the Czech Republic and Slovakia), and Romania embraced Europe and the EU following the collapse of Soviet Union – it represents freedom of the press, open markets, and free elections. With this simple vote, Britain threatens the entire European project and the vote could result in domino effect with other countries, such as Poland and Hungary, leaving the EU. This hypothetical, though not unrealistic scenario, would leave the EU and Britain weaker in an increasingly unstable world.
The demand to exit the EU in Britain and other countries, like Poland under the Law and Justice party, is led by a growing Right wing populism. The rise in Right wing populism is not limited to the EU and a frightening global trend. This Right wing populism in Europe believes the EU is the source of all its problems, mostly pointing to increased immigration, especially from the Middle East often blaming Angela Merkel for throwing open the doors last summer.
Yet vilifying immigrants as an “other” to stir up nationalism is not new in Europe – it is part of the reason why the EU exists. Perhaps one can blame President Obama for failing to get intervene in Syria, leading to the refugee crisis, but this is not the only cause. Nothing is ever that simple. Europe, at least for now, is a rich place and a destination for economic immigrants. The immigrant crisis caused the by the Syrian civil war only exacerbated an already existing problem. There is no question that integrating immigrants, especially of different cultural backgrounds, is difficult and expensive, but not impossible.
The large number of immigrants have fed the fear and hatred that these Right wing parties are thriving on. This is surely not good for Europe. The growing nationalistic movements, something Europe has tried to move beyond, can easily lead to war and ethnic cleansing, terrors the EU was established to prevent. And war is not unlikely especially with a country like Russia threatening Eastern Europe, desiring the return of its status that it lost with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The threat of a weakened shattered EU and growing Right wing populism shows an ever increasingly unstable world: political upheavals in Brazil and Mexico, growing violence in the Middle East, a volatile Pacific Ocean with China increasingly seeking to extend its influence and projection of military power. At a time of growing instability, the British vote simply multiplies this uncertainty and leaves space for countries that eschew Liberal values, like China and Russia, to fill the void.
Without a strong unified Europe to help balance and check these strident powers, the threat of global conflict increases. This is not stay that war will happen, but it makes it more likely. In undermining one of the fundamental features of the European project, to prevent war and grow into a union of European peoples, Britain has in fact done the opposite. Created greater instability, uncertainty, and growing possibility of war and the end of the EU.