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F. Saraceno: Brexit and the Hope for a Progressive European Future

image-07/06/2016 - 16:43Much has already been said on Brexit. More will be said in the hours, days, weeks, months, and even years to come. For those who tire of reading pages and pages about the result of the UK’s referendum, this brief can be summarized in a sentence: Our focus should be on policies, not institutions.

Long lasting skepticism of the European Union that always permeated British society was compounded by multiple recent examples of dreadful crisis management by member states. A sparse and incomplete list would include the stubborn insistence on the wrong policy mix (austerity cum reforms), which yielded a double-dip recession that no other large economy experienced in the past decade; the obsession with debt and deficits when the economy was in desperate need of public support for aggregate demand; the disdain for democracy shown when dealing with the Greek referendum last summer; the slow-moving ECB that only took action years (not weeks, years) after the other central banks; the bullying of small countries in crisis in take-it-or-leave-it non-negotiations; and, finally, perhaps the mother of all policy mistakes, the cynical and illogical management of the refugees crisis. Considering that British voters were always half in and half out, it is no surprise that they chose to walk away from the EU altogether.

To be fair, the EU was scapegoated for many choices made unilaterally by the UK government, which was reelected only a few months ago. UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and Prime Minister David Cameron embraced austerity and government downsizing wholeheartedly, without needing any prompt from the EU. If these policies were what British voters wanted to sanction, they voted in the wrong elections.

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