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  • Writer's pictureStavros Papagianneas

Being Silent is a Mistake

The president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said that he regrets not intervening in the Brexit referendum and the EU could have ''destroyed the lies'' that led to Britain voting to leave the EU. Speaking at a press conference last week Juncker said that David Cameron, UK's prime minister at the time, asked him not to interfere in the referendum campaign. It was a mistake to be silent at such a crucial moment, added the Commission president.

Sometimes, intervention from outside can be counterproductive. US President Obama declared during his visit to London in April 2016 - only two months before the referendum - that its membership of the EU amplified the power of the UK. He warned it would go "back to the queue" in any trade deal with the US if the country chose to leave the EU.

Although Obama pretended that his opinion about Brexit was "part of being friends and being honest", many British experienced it as an intervention in a domestic campaign. At that moment David Cameron did not see any foreign interference. Instead, he told the UK citizens to listen to the advice of its friends. So why he asked Juncker not to interfere and why Juncker interfered in the Greek case and not in Britain?

The Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan famously said that "the medium is the message". He meant that the form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived. But it is more than that. To have an impact, every message needs a face. Every campaign message is personal.

In 2016, the debate on Brexit focused mainly on the opinions of the most powerful big business. Later, both camps understood that the referendum will have a significant impact on the everyday lives of the people. Both campaigns learned to attract human faces, making their cases more personal. When people feel connected to the issue they feel motivated to vote. Nigel Farage is the face of Brexit. Remain does not have a face. David Cameron, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn failed.

Not challenging the Farage message that Brexit can help fix the UK, makes Conservatives and Labour as much responsible for his success as the man himself. Silence is the worst strategy you can have in a time of crisis. If you don't communicate your positions in a clear way, you are the looser. It was the case in 2016 and it is the case now.

With two weeks until the EU elections on 23 May, polls are predicting that the Brexit Party is on course for a big victory in Britain. There is a very simple reason for Farage’s promising prospects: he is facing no resistance. However, the is the problem of all pro-Europeans in the whole continent: pro-Europeans do not have a plan.

Macron is right, and the other EU leaders are wrong. Repeatedly extending the Brexit process reduces Europe’s ability to fix itself. Euroskeptics will do well not only in the UK. The most recent polling from Europe Elects predicts that anti-EU parties could win more than 30% of the seats in the European Parliament.

Convinced Europeans will also be saddened by the finding that a large part of young people in different EU countries has little or no interest in the European election campaign. After the EU elections, there will be a strong representation of anti-European forces in the Parliament and the EU populist nightmare will not end with Brexit.

15 years after the last major enlargement with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe the vision of an ever-closer union has lost its shine. It is possible that the movement for less Europe has already begun. Therefore, being silent is a mistake but not voting is a bigger one.

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