The image of UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who (not so metaphorically) shows his tax returns at the House of Commons to justify himself before voters prone to a summary judgement, is the classic representation of what we hoped would never happen. The personal political future of the prime minister, let’s be honest, is not a large reason of concern for many, but its effect on Europe and the global stability of the crisis of credibility of Downing Street, does.
The Panama Papers do not only cast a light on a scenario of ethical uncertainty, if the open intention to avoid taxes is proven, but they are also an unexpected hurdle in the run-up to June 23.
On that day, Great Britain will decide whether to move toward its exit from the European Union, or remain in the larger circle of a concentric European Union, leaving to others eventual federalist ambitions. The “in or out” approach, although in British style, represents the line between overcoming a crisis Cameron imposed on his own country and all his partners, and plunging into a new global chaos.
This is what Brexit means. Not so much for the impact that the exit of Britain would have on the numbers of the EU, but also for the sense of fragility of the common EU structure that a “no” in the June referendum would bring.
Weakened by the crisis of the euro, split on immigration, the remaining 27 EU countries, in case of Brexit, would find themselves sitting on a common project drifting in the precariousness of a Europe with sliding doors. A place you can enter and exit, without particular drama. This is, we believe, the new world, or better the “uncharted territory” denounced by European Central Bank President Mario Draghi in relation to the crisis of the eurozone.
It’s more and more difficult to distinguish the European events, whether they be exclusively financial and economic issues or only socio-political aspects.
Like a reed, Europe has been able so far to bend to let the storm pass, but now the cracks are visible.
The UK referendum risks of becoming the detonator of the final crisis and this is why, in the pages of this newspaper, we have always considered it a serious political mistake, especially a useless risk, carrying a victory that - if it materializes - will bring with itself a miserable dividend to Cameron, forced for the rest of his life to deal with insatiable eurosceptics, europhobes, euro-perplexed of the Tory party, that he himself largely used in the past.
On the contrary, the price to pay in case of a defeat is the entry for Europe in what Arturo Perez Reverte called in a war novel, Territorio Comanche, where tension of uncertainty, suspicion, fair, dominates. And especially where the final outcome is decided by the unexpected development, the invisible hurdle, the occasional trap. The Panama Papers scandal is exactly this, for the prime minister and, in the end, for the EU.
Yesterday, at the Commons, Cameron didn’t look like a tax evader, he even shrugged off, with some elegance, the suspicion of being a tax dodger, despite the embarrassing moments of the past days.
But he couldn’t free himself from the reality that condemns him to be the privileged product of the British upper class.
The prime minister’s wound is therefore deep, but not because of what he did - based on what has emerged so far - but for the aura that surrounds him. Neither the announced anti-tax evasion measures, nor the moderate British glasnost about politicians’ income - in London, differently from other European capital, Rome included, privacy rules - could change the perception of a shattered credibility.
Polls in coming days will tell us how much, but we’re afraid this will be enough to alienate the Labor vote at the EU referendum. And without the electoral votes of the opposition, Cameron will go down in history as the prime minister who brought London outside of the EU.
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