The ‘deal’ that Mr. Cameron brought home after his negotiation in Brussels and on which people are called to deliberate on the 23rd June is a political balancing act that will have very little impact on reforming the relationship between the EU and Britain.
It is more likely to mark Mr. Cameron down among Europeans for his mean cap on child benefits, than for having contributed any real input towards a fresher and better Europe.
That is why, despite “project fear” and all the supposed “facts” about the EU that have been circulated, the campaign on either side of the Brexit argument has failed to kindle my interest as a ”new European”.
In short, there have been two mainstream discourses informing the discussion about Brexit: one is the economic case and the other is the British resistance to the EU’s political project. The former has been the dominant theme in the “Stronger in Europe” campaign, the latter the primary although not exclusive theme in the “Vote leave” campaign.
In the economic discourse, regardless of the different arguments that have been put forward and the different conclusions that have been drawn as to whether Britain would be better-off or worse-off in or out of the EU, it is clear to me that the underlying assumption is one that treats the EU as nothing more than an economic association and a gateway to global free trade.
In the discourse of political self-determination, the desire for “regaining” border control suggests a very nation-centric approach to the debate. As long as the nation is seen as the benchmark of community boundaries, borders perpetuate the construction of foreigners as problematic antagonists. These discourses also allow for a dual logic whereby it is OK for Britain to reap the benefits of trading with Europe so long as European migrants are kept outside of Britain and inside the Schengen circle. Obviously all nations are ”imagined communities”, so the question is why “solidarity between strangers” cannot be imagined say between the Greeks and the British more than it has been between the Welsh and the English (with the obvious caveat of historical sensitivities).
In my view this shows how European voices have been conspicuously absent in this debate as even pro-European discourses have been based on arguments of “national interest”. The debate on the UK relationship with Europe is a British-only matter reflecting a perception that Europe is a Union of States rather than an opportunity for a transnational democratic project. The fact that European citizens like myself do not get to vote in the referendum despite having been in Britain for many years tells me that we still live in a Europe conceptualised as a club of national memberships.
I suspect such a narrow vision of Europe defines most people’s worldviews, their personal beliefs about what Britain and the EU are or should be and how these relationships should play out in the future. I fear that ultimately it will determine how they vote in the referendum.