Warsaw – The British referendum on the EU is yet another example of a stress-test that today’s liberal democracies have to endure. Throughout Europe there is a widespread feeling that conventional liberal-democratic measures – cyclical elections and consequent years of uninterrupted rule by the parliamentary representation or a designated cabinet – aren’t fit for todays’s situation that demands new, more direct and immediate responses. Hence the popularity of referendums (Greece, Hungary, Poland, UK…) and extraordinary measures, emergency plans, and new powers. The British political class is setting new stakes in this game.
But this isn’t just a problem of extremism and populism, as some would see it. There’s full support and even encouragement from mainstream politicians for these extraordinary tools. PM Cameron is –regardless of any inflammatory comments he might have made or controversial stances on various issues he took at times – a mainstream politician, a conservative, after all. And yet it is him, not some radical socialist fraction of Labour or UKIP’s eurosceptics, who delivered and executed an idea of a referendum on perhaps the most radical and far-reaching choice a European has had to make in 25 years. Because this is what it is. Even if the consequences of the UK potentially leaving the EU wouldn’t be catastrophic in any tangible dimension (people have adapted to more unusual situations and quickly) opening the floodgates for even more radical measures in other European nations will wipe out liberal democracies as we know them.
There’s no underestimating this internal paradox: where there’s dissatisfaction with the political mainstream, the mainstream itself seeks to emulate it’s own critics and contestants, eventually helping to derail itself! This is what UK referendum is about, and this is where the risk lies.