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Brexit: The Nation is Back!

By Yves Mamou

''How quickly the unthinkable became the irreversible'' writes The Economist. They are talking about Brexit, of course. The question of today is: Who could have imagined that British people were so tired of being members of The Club? The question of tomorrow is: What country will be next?

In France, before the British vote, the weekly JDD conducted an online poll with one question: Do you want France out of the EU? 88% of people answered "YES!" This is not a scientific result, but it is nevertheless an indication. A recent -- and more scientific -- survey for Pew Research found that in France, a founding member of "Europe," only 38% of people still hold a favorable view of the EU, six points lower than in Britain. In none of the countries surveyed was there much support for transferring power to Brussels.

With Brexit, everybody is discovering that the European project was implemented by no more than a minority of the population: young urban people, national politicians of each country and bureaucrats in Brussels.

All others remain with the same feeling: Europe failed to deliver.

On the economic level, the EU has been unable to keep jobs at home. They have fled to China and other countries with low wages. Globalization proved stronger than the EU. The unemployment rate has never before been so high as inside the EU, especially in France. In Europe, 10.2% of the workforce is officially unemployed The unemployment rate is 9.9% in France, 22% in Spain.

And take-home salaries have remained low, except for a few categories in finance and high-tech.

To calm a possible revolt of millions of poor and unemployed people, countries such as France have maintained a high level of social welfare spending. Unemployed people continue to be subsidized by the state. How? By borrowing money on international debt markets to pay unemployment insurance benefits, as well as pensions for retired people. So today France's national debt is 96.1% of GDP. In 2008, it was 68%.

In the the euro zone (19 countries), the ratio of national debt to GDP in 2015 was 90.7%.

In addition to these issue all, European countries have been remained open to mass-immigration.

Immigration was not an official question of the British "remain" or "leave" campaign. But as noted by Mudassar Ahmed, patron of the Faiths Forum for London and a former adviser to the U.K. government, the question of immigration and diversity has been latent:

"In personal conversations, I have found those most eager to leave the European Union are also most uncomfortable with diversity -- not just regarding immigration, but of the diversity that already exists in this country. On the other hand, those who are most eager, in my experience, to support remaining in the European Union are far more open to difference in religion, race, culture and ethnicity".

In France, the question of immigration tied to an eventual "Frexit" is not at all latent. The Front National (FN) strongly supports leaving the EU, and that position is tied to immigration. In France, 200,000 foreigners have been coming annually for several years -- from poor countries such as those in North Africa, as well as sub-Saharan countries. The growing presence of Muslims has brought a growing feeling of insecurity, and the cultural traditions of Arab and African countries has created in Europe a cultural "malaise." Not to everyone, or course. In big cities, people accept diversity. But in the suburbs, it is different. Because those who were on welfare, who were poor, who were old -- all these people are living precisely in the same neighborhoods and the same buildings as the new immigrants.

In the past few years, these poor and old people have seen a drastic change in their environment: the butcher has become halal, the café does not sell alcohol anymore, the famous French "jambon beurre" (ham and butter) sandwich disappeared, and most women in the streets are wearing veils. Even the McDonald's in France have become halal. In Roubaix, for example, all fast food has become halal.

An eventual "Frexit" vote by the poor, the old, and the people on welfare would mean only one thing: "Give me my country back!" Today, to be against the EU is to reclaim the possibility of remaining French in a traditional France.

With the Brexit, the question of the nation is back in Europe. Without immigration, it might have been possible gradually to create an eventual European identity. But with Islam plus terrorism at the door, with politicians saying after each terrorist attack, "These men shouting, 'Allahu Akbar' have nothing to do Islam," the rejection is big.

This "give me my country back" seems frightening. And it is. It is tainted with chauvinism, and chauvinism is not a good thing for any minorities in any country. Jewish people paid a heavy price for chauvinism in WWII.

What is reassuring, nevertheless, is that the "Leave" people waited for a legal way to express their protest. They did not take guns or knives to kill Jews or Muslims: they voted. They waited an opportunity to express their feelings. The "Leave" may not look modern or trendy, but it is peaceful, legal and democratic.

Hope things stay like that.

Yves Mamou, based in France, worked for two decades as a journalist for Le Monde.

© Gatestone Institute -


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