Leaving the EU would be the gamble of the century Cameron argued. However, on January 23, 2013 it was his idea to present a simple IN or OUT choice to the British people, should he be re-elected in office. One has to say: he kept his promise. However, what was this promise all about? And now that the Brits opted to leave, did Cameron overplay his hand? Or has he purposely steered the country in this direction?
If one thing can be said about the outcome of the Brexit referendum it is that the anti-establishment wing has won. In the referendum in the Netherlands about the Ukraine membership, populist groups had even instigated the referendum to be held. However, in Britain it was the Prime Minister himself who first went to Brussels to get a deal for the UK. Watching the news around that time, Cameron made a whole demonstration out of it that he had personally brokered a deal with the EU that would allow for membership that would safeguard the economic interests without any commitment to further political integration. The first response to the Brexit is likewise. It will take two years to get a firm trade agreement in shape which will regulate preferred access to the European Market. So, what's the deal?
Cameron saved his face internationally. He was reading local public opinion very well but also knew how important good friendship with European leaders would be to future British statesmanship. Now that the Brits have opted out, he can at least say: I was at your side. I am sorry it did not work out. But let us still formalise what we already agreed - proper access to the European market without much political engagement in Europe. You can deal with your own refugee crises. We won't share the burden. You can deal with your own Euro crisis, that won't affect us either, apart from providing a safe haven for investors who want to move their assets to a more stable environment less affected by these crises.
However, did Cameron act in the interest of the UK? Or did he act in the interest of The City. Both Schotland and Northern Ireland as well as London showed pro-European colors during the referendum. Now that Britain will close its doors to the social unrest at the European mainland, will it be able to control the social unrest at home? Separatists in both countries will have a strong argument now against the unionists (though paradoxically Unionists in Northern-Ireland voted massively in favour of leaving the European Union). Will London and its surrounding become the new Singapore of Europe?
The Pound Sterling dropped, markets strongly reacted. For the time being instability is likely to remain. But out of the ashes will an Atlantis arise where the superrich can safeguard their assets and claim The City to live out their pleasures? It is hard to predict. It would not be the first time in human history that public up-rise only served a few market players to tighten their grip on the market (see the role of the army in the Egyptian economy before and after the Arab spring). The free market hegemony came to an end. Money freely floating without any government control or interference resulted in the accumulation of a lot of wealth into a few hands leaving a scorched earth behind. Special 'free' trade zones and tax holidays helped to transfer wealth out of resource poor countries into paradise islands.
The week preceding the Brexit was marked by the tragic death of Jo Cox, a mother of two and politician-activist in the UK. Unfortunately, her death did not change the discourse. It only stopped the campaign trains for a few days. To some extend for a lot of former Labour current UKIP supporters she was part of the 'establishment' and her social cause that motivated her to stay IN was not recognized by the majority of the British people. They have seen an increase of informal labour in the British labour market. They have seen their jobs being taken by Polish and other foreign workers. They cannot see how staying in the EU would give them back their livelihoods. They probably also have no clue how leaving the EU would do the job. They just want to get rid of far-away bureaucrats deciding on their future. Well, they succeeded. Hope the bureaucrats at home will do a better job for them. It all depends again on what trade deal a new British PM can broker in Brussels as Cameron thanked for the honor and will leave this delicate job to his successor, joining the corporate sector soon I suppose. Yesterday's draw got Britain a sligthly different set of cards.
I don't know about you, but I am a bit tired from climbing all those mountains. One summit after the other appear in the development landscape. You can hardly take a breath or the other summit rises up in front of you. Even political leaders seem to get tired of attending summits, given the low priority G7 leaders gave to the World Humanitarian Summit last week. What is the function of a summit? How does it help the development discourse and much more important: how does it help the poor?
In the past year we witnessed a number of summits, which I also paid attention to at this website. I even attended one in Addis Ababa where quite crucially Finance for Development was discussed. However, whose agenda was driving this forum in the direction or private sector engagement, domestic resource mobilisation and improving the tax base? Private companies may be part of the solution, but certainly will not pay for the solution. Neither do western governments to a large extend. Commitments are easily made at summits. However, how much has been delivered on promises made in the past.
Untie aid from the state
New political realities are taking over and force politicians to take account of the eroding support base for international solidarity. Many governments failed to provide solutions at home for the disadvantaged and the labour class (look at the protests in France). Is it strange that ordinary people do not trust their governments in providing solutions elsewhere while making their citizens pay for it? It caused the debate to shift towards "How will it benefit us?". When I started to work in this sector tight-aid was a curse. We despised USAID for making aid agencies order all equipment from the USA. Gradually I saw this mentality adopted by European development actors. It took us a year to process a derogation request to purchase a Toyota instead of the European make Mercedes for an EU supported project. It went much beyond equipment and the whole rationale for providing aid has shifted from international solidarity to addressing root causes for migration. I can still get my project paid for by international donors. However, it will be framed as a measure that will prevent people from migrating to Europe.
Likewise climate change may equally be framed as opportunity for innovation as it provides livelihood challenges for already vulnerable communities. It is high time to not deliver on climate goals for the sake of our own future but to show solidarity with those affected by it (including with citizens of France and Germany). There cannot be an end to solidarity as also greek citizens displayed in a documentary I saw last week. Despite the enormous economic challenges their country faces, the support for stranded refugees by citizens remains in place and is even gaining ground. Or could we say thanks to the economic melt-down in Greece the solidarity of the average Greek citizen grew stronger than ever?
Facilitate citizen solidarity
Do we expect too much from the State when it comes to international development aid? Rather than paying taxes for the government to show solidarity I prefer getting tax exemption for whatever I donate to an organization of my choice, less susceptible to political pressure. The citizen-2-citizen connection cannot be overemphasized in importance. Hence, rather than influencing my government to make commitments I would like the government to encourage citizens to make personal commitments beyond the current tax exemption provision. A fairly easy way to do so would be to reduce tax with a certain percentage and require citizens to donate a specific percentage of their income to registered aid agencies. Government budget could than be limited to the protection of global public goods and safety and security. It would activate citizens to take serious notice of what agencies are doing and would increase the need for transparency and accountability on results achieved. This could set an important precedent in domestic resource mobilization and avoid a lot of summits currently needed to get governments to commit resources.
Green believers and practitioners
Summits could than be organized at citizens level. Political parties could call on their members to take action rather than members requiring their politicians to take action. A nice example of such a mobilization is an initiative by ChristenUnie, a small Christian political party organizing a day of inspiration for their own constituency under the title "Green Believers". It will give a personal twist to what many may have considered as a public duty. Investing in a green lifestyle with due consideration of humanities' task to be good stewards of this planet. Though this may be a Christian notion, in many ways humanists have preceded Christians in actually doing so. The practice-what-you-preach mantra may also sound clearly today and hopefully will also help personal transformation.
My name is Reinier van Hoffen.
Click here for a summary.
Also find the text of a lecture Dr. Achterhuis held at the 2012 Bilderberg conference.