Open Society in the Post-Brexit European Union

The result of the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom last week surprised many of us, but the trends that propelled Brexit are not new and should not surprise anyone. Those trends—from anti-elitism to economic disenfranchisement—are listed in the countless pieces of commentary published over recent days. But perhaps the most decisive trend is the politics of fear: it is one of the greatest threats to open society. 

Living in an open society requires tolerating a degree of strain. Accepting our own fallibility and the need for continuous reconsideration of our political arrangements leads to what Karl Popper termed the constant strain of modern civilizations. It may be tempting to escape that strain in the apparent comfort of a more rigidly ordered society, where everyone’s place is fixed and social conventions are immutable. But once a society opens itself, the prospect of a return to certainty is at best a nostalgic fantasy, and a politics of fear can lead otherwise reasonable people to chase after that fantasy. Widespread fear quickly makes the strain inherent in open society unbearable.

The Brexit vote is about many things: the complicated and distant bureaucracy of Brussels, the EU’s inept management of the refugee crisis (and the euro crisis before it), and the failure of cosmopolitan elites to place the public interest over their own self-interest. Those who are committed to open society principles must address these failings if we are ever to realize the original ambitions of the European Union and its aspirations to democracy, rule of law, and rights. But it is the politics of fear that makes such reform doubly difficult today in Europe. Its deciding influence in the Brexit campaign has left open society supporters in the UK dispirited.

However deep its flaws, the European Union is too precious an achievement to abandon. We recognize the flaws of slow and deliberative decision making; poor internal EU public communication; no middle gear between bureaucracy and closed-door summitry. We hear the distrust from citizens and the populist opportunism that exploits it. We recognize that populists on the left and right now claim that they are speaking on behalf of citizens in a way that the EU and national political elites cannot. 

Even if further fragmentation of the EU project is inevitable, we at the Open Society Foundations must commit ourselves to the reconstruction of the EU in a more flexible, responsive, capable, and principled form. The future of the EU may be uncertain, but our commitment to it is not. We will bring to bear all of the tools at our disposal to assist in its radical reconstruction.

At the same time, we must seek to quell the politics of fear in every country where we work—not only in Britain; indeed, not only in Europe. We know the antidote to fear is solidarity in a common cause, and we know that civil society can be the crucible of such solidarity.

Solidarity in a cause is not consensus about means. Our vision is of civil society engaged in genuine debate and diverse democratic practice, bolstering fundamental rights while appealing to democratic majorities, engaged with governing institutions as well as political protest. We will keep faith with those who feel disenfranchised or excluded, and we will work with those at the forefront of intellectual debate. Our methods must connect, align, and build these diverse constituencies, not pit them against each other. This is how we quell the politics of fear.

Brexit is a turning point, but where we turn is up to us. We must work together. We must keep true to our commitments. Most of all, we must remain fearless.

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Agree wholeheartedly

Let's do a list of common European values...

The most solid, sensible and positive commentary I have read this week.
Thank you.

let's make focus group discussion and try solving problems

I'm distressed about the Brexit decision too. But there's too much pious generality here, in my view. "Fear" is identified as the big enemy ("But perhaps the most decisive trend is the politics of fear..."): but fear of what? Chris Stone nowhere enlightens us on this, the central tenet of his argument. The factors he does cite -- at the start of the 3rd paragraph -- are hardly ones that would normally be thought of as provoking fear, at least in the averagely robust citizen. (Since he doesn't say, one has to assume he's referring here mainly to the immigration issue -- although it is not actually mentioned in the article.)
But what about the other big emotions that clearly drove this protest Brexit vote: above all, anger -- at the glaring lack of democracy and accountability in E.U. decision-making bodies; at the hollowing-out of the UK economy (and a concomitant extreme polarisation between the haves and have-nots in society) by three decades and more of doctrinaire globalisation; and at the failure of our elected politicians to do anything serious about these and other widely resented problems?
The British people are known for their grit and resolve in the face of crisis; we are not the fearful, timorous masses that Chris Stone seems to depict here. Anger was the underlying popular emotion in the Brexit vote -- and it needs to be addressed directly, and answers supplied. The "politics of fear", in my view, was a distinctly secondary causal factor in the Brexit meltdown process.
I should add that I wholeheartedly support OSF's goals and principles. The organization is doing a great deal of good in many countries around the world.

Comments sections prove to be sources of gems of unheard but valid outpourings of feelings and genuine social comment; some Comments underscore the unfortunate fact that Politicians are merely fallible humans, of no more real use to us than Greengrocers or Mechanics - they're just parochial Law Mechanics.
We need more Social Engineering and more simple MATHS in government, less Political Correctness.

I'll be happy use this Comment, with others, as bricks as I build my understanding of the struggle . . .

I agree completely about solidarity, genuine debate and addressing the needs of people who feel (and often are) excluded, and the need to turn away from fear, but we have not had genuine debate about Europe. I am fearful that our referendum has set a precedent for other disaffected voices, like the Front National, to call for referendums. The EU could start to unravel unless its politicians are smart.
People did not know what they were voting for: we need a second referendum when it is clear what deal Britain will get from the EU (or other markets). If EU leaders are wise, they will let us vote again on the actual deal, but someone needs to suggest it to them.
But whatever happens, the EU also needs to deepen its own democracy, connect more strongly with citizens and show that it can address the problems of unemployment, refugees, etc. Our referendum is a wake-up call on problems across the continent, but the response so far suggests Europe’s leaders are in denial. Martin Schulz said Britain’s vote to leave “is not a crisis for the European Union”. Frankly, Britain leaving is a massive crisis for the EU. It will lose income, prestige and power. It will add an immense administrative and diplomatic burden on top of the crises of the Eurozone, Greece, refugees and unemployment. So for internal reasons the EU needs to do more to address the democratic deficits, to “be more relevant, deliver added value” as the rotating president Mart Rutte has said, and strengthen the sense of an European identity that protects local and national identities in all their diversity.
The EU’s leaders set out the framework or options for Britain outside the EU and give Britain a chance to decide on the real choice before it triggers Article 50.
(For more on this see:
The Council of Europe is hosting the World Forum on Democracy this autumn, which I will attend: is there anything the Open Society Foundation could do to promote a debate about democracy in the UK, within the context of a globalising world (see also:

For those of us who believe in an open, free Europe based on solidarity, diversity and democracy, this referendum is a call to action, to renew Europe and not leave it. But for that we need a more honest debate and a fresh referendum on the terms of departure.

I fully agree. My question: should at this stage priority not be given to the support for the petition in favour of repeating the referendum?

Politcs of fear is achieving risking the live of migrants all over the world and causing extreme hardship

You cut through all levels of analysis with this. It's convincing and very welcome. There are many of us that believe in the principles of open societies built on human rights and social justice, but we haven't yet managed to forge the solidarity and passion we need to mobilize our energies and overcome the fears - including our own. We sorely need new ways to take action, and Open Society has an important part to play in helping us find them.

It is very obvious what this "fear" is and unfortunately it's the most basic and strongest human emotion. It's "Xenophobia" or in more detail "fear of the stranger". It is a very easy emotion to trigger in human beings and sadly that is what many politicians use to gain their votes. Beyond the EU look at what Trump is doing in the US. Sadly that basic emotion is not going to go away. It's part of human nature, developed millions of years ago through the environment humans lived in and developed. But what can change is our political (and other leaders) in the world not tapping in to this fundamental emotion for their own benefit.

A very good, reassuring statement of principle and call to action, Chris, with the one caveat that your brief analysis of what drove Brexit overlooked the immigration issue in the UK.

One demographic factor that hasn't received enough attention is the extent to which this was a vote of the old against the young:

(YouGov poll)
18-24: 75% Remain
25-49: 56% Remain
50-64: 44% Remain
65+: 39% Remain

Could this reality be one starting point for OSF's long-term work to re-energize and reform the EU?

One other factor to bear in mind is that this battle is not necessarily over. Cameron has already stated that he will leave it to his successor to trigger Article 50 (which officially starts the process of leaving the EU) after he steps down come October. If he is smart (a quality he did not display by organizing this ridiculous referendum to begin with), this delay reflects a realization that in the coming months the economic damage of departing the EU will start to sink in and the promises of the Brexit backers (e.g., that Brexit itself, without wholesale revocation of the economic benefits of even loose EU affiliation, will limit immigration) will more clearly be seen as empty.

Thus, should public opinion polling indicate that a new vote would reverse the Brexit referendum, Cameron could and should call it. Even putting matters of principle and policy aside, such a vote would be in his self-interest; as matters stand now, Brexit leaves him with a truly disastrous legacy as PM.

What might this mean for OSF? It certainly would be counterproductive and outside the organization's mission to engage in an active campaign to reverse the vote. But short-term support for academic and policy institute initiatives that better illuminate the actual price the UK and the EU are paying for Brexit - and would pay for potential similar referendums and EU exits by other countries - could contribute to both short-term and long-term consideration of the concrete harms at stake.

It seems that, as the world become smaller due to technology, individuals and countries are drawing inward to protect their identity because of perceived threat to their culture. This mentality is fragmenting our world, and Britain's withdrawal from the EU is a symptom that does not bode well for anyone, anywhere.

So what's behind the "politics of fear"? I believe the migration issue is only the catalyst that coalesced other fears into action at the polls. How do we address those other fears, such as: becoming irrelevant in a globalized economic culture of consumerism? It’s no coincidence that generally, older voters opted out while younger voters opted to stay. Voters with deep roots asked what is left of culture, tradition, values, customs - of IDENTITY?; while those in bustling cosmopolitan environments were eager to embrace a world where they will likely have careers which span multiple countries, industries, values and cultures - caring to make none their own. This dichotomy is playing out all over the world. It’s one thing to recognize (and celebrate) that villagers in Indonesia, Transylvania, Ukraine, Kurdistan, Guatemala all share fervent adherence to their own customs and cultures as those in small towns in Ireland and Scotland – but another thing to be pitted against them in a contest for survival. How can the shrinking world ensure respect for IDENTITY; while championing new-found rights for all? How can newly-won rights be reveled in, while understanding previous norms for their contextual relevance? Conservative or Liberal, old fashioned or modern labels just do not gage the change that the BREXIT vote began to acknowledge. It’s too late for should’ve, could’ve. Defining the way forward is the challenge. How does one convince an atheist that religions have had value? How do we not throw the baby out with the bathwater? It’s like going off to a wedding, choosing to take: Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.

Brexit is symbolic of the reaction to over-regulation and rule by the elite. The EU rulers are only concerned with maintaining power and have little or no contact with citizens outside of the cities. So the vote in the rural areas is not surprising.

Also, the very concept of bringing all these historic enemies together as a European Union is probably a false one.

Definition of Solidarity: union or fellowship arising from common responsibilities and interests, as between members of a group or between classes, peoples, etc.

The problem is to convince the other parties whom you want to protect, defend and cooperate with, they get to know the definition of solidarity also, and willing to accept it! The problem that arise is cultural and religious acceptance of minorities. Other side is that mostly the Rules of the House are not accepted and not clearly explained to whom who want to join the European community! The rule should say "Be my guest, make your self feel home, but don't change anything without asking me and if you do not like it as it is then please feel free to go back where you belong..if that makes you happier"
The other issues should be a common sense and last the biggest problem is that when somewhere something is going wrong we will take it from somewhere else what is also ours. Like taking it from the students and giving it to the pensions holders. Nobody is talking we have to make new projects to create income to pay the debts. It's so easy to take existing money. For example when the dollar went low on the Euro the US created a problem in the east and started selling weapons again, no the US dollar is nearly equal to the Euro. You should go to the source of the problem and kill the fire from the bottom. Thank you for the article Solidarity!

We must work together, the inspirational reality of the EU must remain as the path to follow specially for region like South América. It is important to strengthen as soon as posible the relations of EU with UNASUR and demostrare to the World that people, knowledge and Trade flows between regions with full respect to peace, rights and justice

Maybe Brexit is showing how not to be together 8n Europe, or at least the shortcomings of trying to unite without adequate institutional transparency, public debate subverted to political interest and that national and partisan loyalties still trump collective interest. Perhaps it will prove to be a seminal turning poInt for in the UK. An expensive and painful lesson perhaps, but instead of watching the ripples on the surface of the ocean, consider now that the tide is changing.

Я поддерживаю тот факт, что по вопросам прав человека и социальной справедливости, общество до сих пор не солидарно. Необходимо мобилизовать гражданское общество, чтобы смело говорить о проблемах уязвимых групп населения не только в своих странах, но и поддерживать партнеров и союзников в других странах. Необходимо делиться опытом в области изменения политик государств и объединяться для адвокации изменения неугодных обществу государственных политик

Absolutely Agree, that is indeed brilliant ...

Open society for me it is to free the mind and let democracy led the world and this is what happen when the majority decides...the education it is part of this brexit people was not really inform what will be the consequences or the benefit united is it always an advantage?

I appreciate that Open Society Foundation is taking stock in the wake of the Brexit vote. Thanks for sharing the valuable insights that “open societies” must contend with uncertainty and anxieties in sensible and democratic ways, lest fear and ignorance hijack the very instruments of our collective governance.

Here in North America, the genie of fear has escaped the bottle. The most visible and immediate apparition is the terrifyingly successful candidacy of Donald Trump, but the longer-term threat (similar to Europe) is that the genuine economic and political issues -- manipulated by charlatans and demagogues – go unaddressed.

Chris Stone says the, Brexit vote is about, “the complicated and distant bureaucracy of Brussels, the EU’s inept management of the refugee crisis (and the euro crisis before it), and the failure of cosmopolitan elites to place the public interest over their own self-interest.”

A similar list of factors alienates millions in the United States from our elites. The racist and xenophobic response result is Donald Trump taking over the Republican “Party of Lincoln”.

The progressive, “Rooseveltian” response to our political paralysis and a ever widening income divide in the United Sates was evident in the insurgent, youth driven, democratic-socialist insurgency (Bernie Sanders) that rocked assumptions about the long-term viability of the marriage between corporate and political interests that has characterized our Democratic Party in recent decades.

Thanks OSF for helping keep the doors open and lights on for an enlightened, robust, and unapologetic international debate.

I réel scared, rugby now. Why? Because I've just identified in the Bre.xit event a known schemata: thaïs is a black op. Everything proves it, from the failed reasuring pool few hours before the referendum, to the gross uninformation of the British voters, to the current implosion of Labor's shadow cabinet (when politic basic intelligence requires to unite to obtain early election).

In few days, there were to much improbable facts. This is a black op, a main-made set of events, an artefact. So the question is to spot Who and Why. The fear message to the masses is clear; we hold the power and frame the events to serve our purprose. This is where our values come at play. Please remember that black operators are only meticulous people and spend a considerable time to work at details. Find their traces, open your eyes

thank you president chris stone
open society foundation the information it is good world please i ask from you with partnership work is open society foundation world for disability
please you help me to get of open society foundation with disability thank you Director Tanzania Network for Deaf women in Tabora Regional Tanzania welcome in Tanzanian by chrisant lawrence Ruhethas

We fully agree with Mr. Chris Stone. The politics of fear has become popular in Europe long before the beginning of the Refugees’ crisis. The nationalistic groupings have come to power in different European countries spreading the xenophobic, racist and anti-semitic attitudes to raise their political weight. The activization of these powers became a real challenge for the European values. In their turn the Russian authorities and Mass-Media were promoting their negative attitudes towards Euro integration, doing whatever possible to prevent the movement of Georgia, Armenia and Ukraine towards the EU. But the European Union was too busy with its own problems to take these challenges seriously. The officials of European Commission preferred to make nice statements about equality and democracy instead. The Non-governmental organisations from EU countries that tried to support European values, did not have enough financial, political or informational support for the realization of their projects.
In 2011 we established an organisation Stitching Respect International – West-East Bridges Foundation in the Netherlands for the promotion of democracy, equality and intercultural dialogue between the countries of Western and Eastern Europe. The organisation’s staff consists of Dutch, UK, French, German, Austrian, Turkish, Russian and Armenian citizens. We have carried out a number of successful projects in the Netherlands, Russia, Georgia and Armenia with partners from 28 European countries. In 2013 our project Grant Number OR 2013-04804 aimed at supporting workshop efforts to educate youth on being responsible producers and consumers of social media as well as using debate as a tool for critical thinking and engagement ultimately to decrease the number of crimes based on ethnicity in Russia was supported by the Open Society Foundation. This year our project “Non-Formal Education for Integration and Socialization of Refugees” was supported by Erasmus+ Dutch National Agency. But as you know, the budget of this Programme is very limited. The projects on more or less same topic that we applied to EC’s Europe for Citizens, CoE’s European Youth Foundation, German Bosh Foundation and some other Funds were rejected. According to our colleagues with years of experience in European countries for the support of intercultural dialogue, democracy and equality, they face the same issues. It is obvious, that “Brexit” will be followed by a new wave of xenophobia and anti-semitic moods and will empower the centrifugal political powers in Europe. And there’s a big chance that the European Commission, due to its huge bureaucracy, will once again miss the situation, which will make the situation in Europe even worse and create new problems for USA, Canada and other parts of the world.
We are very glad that Mr. Chris Stone understands the situation and we hope that he, as the president of the Open Society Foundations, will initiate the Foundations’ support for NGOs carrying out international projects for socialization and adaptation of refugees, intercultural dialogue and united democratic Europe.

Stitching Respect International West-East Bridges Foundation
Marius van Bouwdijk Bastiaansestraat 44
NL-1054 SP Amsterdam

Thanks for this article. In my own personal quest for truth and goodness and a civil society, I have found in my own life that I begin in the morning with confidence and certainty and at the end of the day find myself looking in the mirror and saying, "are you sure?"

Chris Stone says "Living in an open society requires tolerating a degree of strain." He is right. "Accepting our own fallibility and the need for continuous reconsideration of our political arrangements" Right again. "Widespread fear quickly makes the strain inherent in open society unbearable." Yes. But let us consider that fear comes from lack of knowledge more so than too much knowledge, and fallibility does not mean we cannot know anything. We all see things from different perspectives, which means we have to always be open to criticism and have a willingness to learn. While we are certainly "fallible" that does not mean we are to remain ignorant. We grow, we fall, we seek forgiveness and reconciliation, learn from our mistakes and strive for excellence, and at the end of the day we look in the mirror and say, "let's do better tomorrow" For those who cannot take these steps, well, I suppose they will simply be left behind while we go about the business of forming a true civil society. We should hope that the Brit - ish ("covenant men") will join with us.

Brexit was the ultimate expression of democracy and one that must be respected by the ruling class. The people have spoken and we want our country back from the grip of an unaccountable and anti-democratic failing European Union.

debate was lost on 2 grounds.

1) labelling anyone who thought a better immigration system as a 'xenophobe' or 'racist'. A small minority would have genuinely been racist. However, by labelling the entire movement racist dragged in lots of centralists who genuinely thought such a system would be possible and better. Rational counter-debate would have been needed i.e. saying how it's a fundamental EU policy etc and saying we should aim to spread jobs more evenly etc instead of just labelling them bigots.

I'm not actually from the EU but I know such a system can be better since I live in a country that implements such a system to excellent results resulting in appropriate supply / demand for jobs and higher skilled migrants etc.

2nd point was lack of incentive for the EU to reform and a genuine lack of willingness to keep the UK in the EU. The EU could have easily kept the UK in, but thought remain was going to win so didn't bother.

Obviously there are other points. But I feel these 2 points are big drivers.

Yes the Political Class were too busy believing their own propaganda.

What a shame that the author failed to touch on the greater geopolitical problems that have created the refugee crisis and the issue of immigration, which for many in the UK is a huge worry. Nowhere does this article list the endless foreign wars that the UK government insists on waging along with it's NATO allies...the very wars that are systematically destroying the homelands of so many who seek refuge today. Until OSF address these issues, who can take the articles seriously? I for one cannot and knowing the influence of foundations such as OS, I would expect to see and hear a strong condemnation of the actions of western governments by OSF, but instead I read that nations must accept immigration as the new normal, apparently regardless of the affect on individual nations. This article is puddle-like in it's shallowness and totally devoid of substance.

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