The social contract and Brexit’s precedents for Europe

When Brexit goes through it will set precedents that will influence the future for the European Union’s remaining citizens and member states, like the standard of debate, questions and issues for national referendums; how Article 50 negotiations are structured and carried out; the legal precedent for ending citizenship and how the European “super state” deals with citizens affected, whether those of the departing state or those who will remain in the Union.

At the moment it seems that the entire political establishment is operating on assumptions about their power to make decisions for us. This is dangerous for the relationship between citizen and state, unjust and potentially harmful for the future of democracy everywhere.

Here’s my argument:

  1. The EU has declared that citizens of its member states are also something else, they’re citizens of Europe.
  2. They’ve stated that “Citizens of the Union shall enjoy the rights and be subject to the duties provided for in the Treaties”  (article 20.2, Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union”)
  3. They’ve done the work to secure our rights and benefits for us – providing political and legal institutions, regenerating communities, promoting trade – and encouraged us to support the Union through political participation and international cooperation.
  4. This sort of relationship between a state and its citizens – where there is a trade off between benefits provided by the state and compliance and participation by citizens – is an example of the “social contract” concept in political philosophy.
  5. The European social contract creates an ethical duty on the European Union to honour democratic rights and principles when a member state attempts to take its citizens out of the Union.

The EU’s legal framework for citizenship and its established procedures do seem to offer a potential way out of this bind. Rather than just dumping the millions of Brits who don’t want to leave the Union, it can honour the right of citizens to be heard when an individual measure affects them adversely (article 41, EU Charter of Fundamental Rights), so there is the potential at least for a negotiated end to the social contract for these individuals, a chance for the EU to say that it has met its ethical duty as far as it is able, and a chance for it to learn and improve its relationship with its citizens.

The alternative is a brutal demonstration of state power. A nation state stumbles into a mishandled referendum decided by a small margin. A national government fights tooth and nail to limit further democratic debate and participation. The super state accepts national state decision. From that point it acts as if its citizens living in the nation state are dead to it, their views irrelevant, the harm done to them of no interest, their rights null and void. The state rules.

You can petition the European Union on these issues here. It’s an official EU petition, already being considered by the Commission and the Council of Europe, but still very much open and it’d be great to have your support. Note you need to find the Register link at the bottom of the petition before you can support it.






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