Exasperated by the EU’s mixture of authoritarianism and economic failure, a segment of Europe’s left is now calling for a “break with the EU,” which would mobilize left-wing support for exit referenda across the continent. Their analysis has come to be known simply as “Lexit.”
DiEM25, the transnational Democracy in Europe Movement, rejects the Lexit logic in favor of an alternative agenda for Europe’s progressives. Undoubtedly, the Left must confront — with all its energy and imagination — the European Union’s practice of depoliticizing decision-making. In fact, this task also falls on other European democrats, Greens, and liberals. These formations may not consider themselves Left, but share our duty to resist Brussels’s authoritarian incompetence.
The question is not whether progressive forces must clash with the EU establishment and current practices. The question is in what context, and within what overarching political narrative, this confrontation should take place. Three options present themselves.
Option 1: More Europe
Standard variety euro-reformism — practiced typically by social democrats — calls for “more democracy,” “more Europe,” and “reformed institutions.” But this option is founded on a fallacy: the European Union has never suffered from a democratic deficit that could be rebalanced with more democracy and a few reforms.
As I argue, the EU was intentionally constructed as a democracy-free zone that would keep the people out of decision-making and defer to a cartel of big business and international finance. Saying that the European Union suffers from a democratic deficit is like saying an astronaut on the moon suffers from an oxygen deficit.
The standard process of inter-governmental deliberations and gradual treaty changes cannot hope to reform the European Union’s institutions. For this reason, calls for “more Europe” are misguided: under the present regime and with the existing institutions, this can only result in a European Austerity Union.
This reformist position would likely formalize and legalize the Schäuble Plan and grant the European Union the power to veto national budgets, massively curtailing democracy across the federation. In turn, the crisis afflicting Europe’s weakest citizens will deepen, the xenophobic right will gain strength, and the EU’s disintegration will speed up.
With this in mind, pro-democracy progressives have no alternative besides spearheading a head-on clash with the European Union establishment. This brings us to the second and the third options.
Option 2: Lexit
Tariq Ali, among others, has eloquently made the case for left-directed exit referenda. Stathis Kouvelakis, post-Brexit, summed up the position: “we have to play the referendum game, while blocking the forces of the xenophobic and nationalist right from winning hegemony and diverting the popular revolt.”
In short, to beat right-wing misanthropy, we have to support their referenda that will remove our states from the EU.