I’m sitting here looking at my burgundy-red British passport, with EUROPEAN UNION emblazoned in gold letters across the top. I’ve fastened the shirt I’m wearing with cufflinks which have the UK flag on one side, and the German flag on the other—my proud European heritage. I’m thinking about everything I loved about growing up in London: the food, the culture, the fact that in one teeming, vibrant city you could find the entire world. I’m thinking about the single happiest moment that I ever saw my (German) mother, when I ran into the kitchen and told her to come, watch the TV, the Berlin Wall was coming down, the unthinkable was happening. Europe was really, truly, coming together.
And I’m grieving. Because that world—the world of hope, the world of ever-closer union among countries which for centuries would kill each other by the million—came to a shattering end on Thursday.
This vote is also the grimmest of reminders of the power still held by the older generation, not only in the UK but around the world. Young Britons—the multicultural generation which grew up in and of Europe, the people who have only ever known European passports—voted overwhelmingly to remain. They’re the generation that just lost its future. Meanwhile, Britons over the age of 65, fed a diet of lies by a sensationalist UK press, voted by a large margin to leave. Most of them did so out of a misplaced belief that doing so might reduce immigration, or make them better off, or save them from meddling bureaucrats. In a couple of decades, most of those voters will be dead. But the consequences of their actions will resonate far beyond the grave.Felix Salmon
As I heard about the referendum results in the UK that was my first reaction as well. Ever since I developed some sense for politics and democracy my opinion was that older people should lose their voting rights at some point – maybe a couple of years after retirement. If young people are not allowed to express their opinion before an arbitrary age, the same can be implemented for old people as a symbolic symmetry, and because their decisions are likely less concerned with the future and more with their own well-being at an old age.
But, as with most problems, the truth is a lot more complex than that. You can blame old people all day long for ‘voting wrong’, but the trouble is young people, who were mostly supporting the Remain side, had a much lower turnout. This highlights a long-knows problem of democracy here in Europe, the apathy for involvement in the political process and exercising the right to vote. Young people need to realize they need to step up and support what’s best for them – nobody else will do it otherwise. Another issue, initially overlooked, is how much the vote was influenced by economical status and income inequality, with poor cities voting overwhelmingly for Brexit – a problem decades in the making.
The immediate reaction after the vote was stunning, with many people surprised about the result and dismayed by their contribution. It’s like a large part of the country got taken by the illusion of a long-gone Greater Britain – fueled by the disingenuous Leave campaign and the press – only to be woken up in shock to an economical and political nightmare that may take years to settle. Some people even launched a petition for a second referendum in the days after the vote – it now has more than four Million signatures and should be debated in Parliament at the beginning of September. I’m not sure this would be the best solution, but from my point of view it’s very irresponsible to leave such a crucial decision to a simple 50% majority in a referendum. Ultimately, the British parliament needs to validate the referendum and some are clinging to the hope that it may choose to refute the results, ending this thorny situation one and for all. Or that Article 50 notification to the EU may never be triggered – until then the UK is technically still a member.
Alas, I fear these are only illusions from a disappointed Remain side. Britain voted to go and it now has to deal with the consequences. But none of the current political leaders want that kind of mess associated with their name. Already many of the figureheads of the Leave campaign have resigned, unable to fulfill their false promises made during the campaign. Scotland and Northern Ireland are considering leaving as well, this time from the United Kingdom, since the majority in both countries voted to stay in the EU. And the rest of the EU is pressuring for a quick resolution to get on with its business.
Most people look at this prospect fearing a future where the EU starts to break apart following UK’s exit. But I think the situation could unfold in other ways. Seeing the chaos and confusion in the UK after this vote, realizing there was no concrete plan behind the propaganda and fearmongering, maybe voters in other Eurosceptic countries will think twice before bringing the same negative consequences elsewhere. It’s good to have ideals, both in life and in politics, but retreating from the world and closing doors is not an ideal, just the embodiment of fear and regression. The road to a more prosperous and peaceful future is a better, stronger and more flexible European Union, not every country trying to go on its own separate way.
And on the note, maybe it’s better that the UK leaves – since their admission, the country has opposed many of the initiatives designed to better integrate individual countries in the European Union and has acted as a leader for other countries opposing such measures. Maybe this way British people will realize their problems had much more to do with their own political leaders than the changes brought on by the EU.