Written by Jan Henrik Schimkus
Granted, the outcome of the referendum on the issue of Great Britain leaving the EU is already a few months old. Still, we thought it might be worthwhile, to sum up, the matter from a German perspective. To be frank, the whole process that led up to the referendum seemed rather absurd to me, and I dare say to the majority of Germans following the news. Figures such as Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson created a resemblance to the 2016 election campaign in the USA, but maybe that’s due to our typical politician being more of a bland character. Up to the last weeks before the vote, most people I talked to and I guess even most of our political experts did not believe the so-called Brexit could be possible. Boy, were we proven wrong.
If I were to generalize, which I am, I’d say that the majority of Germans tends to be pro-European and pro-EU. While we have our share of euro-sceptical parties, even the biggest of them, the AFD, was not being able to achieve success solely on this issue. Only after turning into an outright right-wing party, the AFD became a lot more successful. Meanwhile, the new party of AFD-Founder Bernd Lucke, still running on the anti-Euro issue, has faded to insignificance.
Back to Brexit
The closer the referendum came, the more German media outlets acknowledged that it could happen and began to speculate on its possible consequences. What would it mean for visiting friends and family in the United Kingdom? Or just for that weekend trip to London? What would the British leaving the EU mean for our economy? For Germany’s role in Europe? In general, there was this fear of Britain just moving into a greater distance, without actually moving at all. Then again, supporters of the European idea were afraid that the Brexit would strengthen Germany’s leading role in the EU even more. A role, that, in their eyes, had not been beneficial for all of Europe but had been somewhat responsible for the economic division of north and south within the union, especially within the Eurozone.
When the votes were finally cast, we were shocked, to say the least – some maybe even angry. European economic experts and scientists had stated that the United Kingdom would suffer terribly under Brexit, while the EU would be damaged, though not severely. European Parliament officials were quick to stand together and pledge the unity of the EU’s remaining members.
As for Britain, I was wondering about the social and political atmosphere it took to allow the referendum to go out the way it did. And, to be honest, I was wondering about the outright stupidity and falseness of some of the claims made by UKIP and other pro-Brexit organizations and individuals – as well as the way they ran the campaigns. Of course, some people were well informed and had made up their mind. Nevertheless, the viral videos of individuals who had no clue whatsoever what they were voting for, or even what the EU was, was heartbreaking. As somebody not living in the UK, I cannot assert that I would know what actually happened.
But taking the British people and the British media into account that inhabit my social bubble, I feel a bit scared because I cannot exclude something like this happening in Germany, one of the very few countries who would most likely survive a collapse of the European Union relatively unharmed.