THE BLOG

Are You A Global Citizen?

20/03/2017 16:25

Britain is changing its place on the global stage. A steady withdrawal from internationalism, on the back of a wave of populism has found Britain falling back from its role as a leader in Europe. Trump's election will result in the same, with the USA ending trade deals and threatening its place in NATO. The referendum in Italy and upcoming French elections look to be putting both these nations on, isolationist mandates. A near loss for the far-right Austrian presidential candidate was the first flicker of hope that the tide of populism could be opposed, but Hitler's loss and then success in 1932 and 1933 is a warning from history that politics can change quickly.

What has struck me is the split in many of these countries has been startlingly close. Brexit was essentially won by 52% of the vote. The US election was split nearly 50:50. Austria was won by only 6% of the vote. The Italian referendum was the only case that stands out, but that's likely to be because of the confusing question in a complex political system. As for France; we will see, but we know the establishment candidate and the current President are already out of the competition and more are surprises are to come from the French election yet.

For now, the 48% who will lose their freedom of movement in Europe can do nothing to retain their right, their desire to be a citizen of Europe. Perhaps even to protect their place as a 'citizen of the world', which Theresa May once described as a 'citizen of nowhere'. However, a recent proposal by Guy Verhofstadt in the European parliament to create an optional European citizenship for those Britons unhappy about the referendum results could create a new type of citizen; true, global citizens who can choose their place in the world.

This means a new era of international, global citizenship has the potential to make globalisation optional, with those willing to pay the price able to enjoy the benefits of international organisations. It also has the potential however, to make a two-tier society, with those unable or unwilling to join being left behind. And while it will create global citizens, it will also cement the divide between intra-nationalists, people who are unable or unwilling to join the ranks of the internationalists. But who are these two groups?

For Internationalists, there is little perceived cultural division with most nations, borders are viewed as a hindrance (likely because of the increased amount of travel they do) and companies work internationally and not locally. A company that works across borders isn't seen as exceptional; it's the obvious things to do. Therefore, organisations such as the UN and the EU make complete sense. They build systems and governance to enable internationalism and a continued movement towards a system which allows more travel and less red-tape is logical. Globalisation is seen as an engine for GDP growth, despite the potential impacts on the local economy and local employment.

For intra-nationalists, the opposite is true. Many of these people don't travel much, if at all. For example, a poll by Public Policy Polling found 52% of those who pledged support to Clinton owned a passport while only 37% who pledged to Trump owned one. They also see things from a more authoritarian perspective, which freedom of movement and free trade go against. Work by Eric Kaufmann has shown that support for the death penalty is as accurate a predictor of voting Brexit (70% of people who support the death penalty supported Brexit) as political party support. The only two things more accurate at predicting voting intention was immigration and further EU integration. Intra-nationalists internationalism and globalisation as part of the problem, rather than being part of the solution.

Both groups have more in common with people from other countries than they do within their own. The Londoners who rejected Brexit have more values in common with those living in California, who opposed Trump. Hard-Brexit areas of the UK have more in common with those areas of Austria who voted for the right wing presidential candidate, who want an end to immigration (which they perceive often as refugees) and who want to see a reduction of low skilled labour taking jobs.

British, European and American politicians will have to manage groups who see the world in very different ways, protect their jobs and enable them to live their lives in a rapidly changing, digital economy where success means less barriers to travel and trade. Trump and Brexit won their elections on the back of declarations to protect those who see their future within a less open state, that they can recreate the world before globalisation and that international free trade has damaged their lives. It's a gamble which is unlikely pay off.

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