this is a dark day for the European Union. Great Britain has cast its vote, and will part ways from the EU. Both for Great Britain and for the EU, things won’t continue as before. But it is up to us where they go from here.
It is sometimes said that the EU has become a cold and technocratic projects. But the EU is, first and foremost, a project of peace, and peace is a matter of the heart. The EU a project of peaceful cooperation among people who have fight endless wars, for centuries after centuries. It is heart-wrenching to see it falter as it does today, threatened by waves of nationalism and chauvinism, in Great Britain and elsewhere.
Last week, my beloved grandma died. She was born in 1925, and experienced fascism and war as a young girl. She wrote her final school exams in the bunkers underneath the Nuremberg castle, because American and British bombers were threatening the city – and yet she and her family were grateful for these bombers to bring down an inhumane and murderous regime. Two generations later, I came to Great Britain, first as an au-pair girl, then as a student, later as a scholar. The welcome couldn’t have been warmer. Like so many others, I forged friendships in Great Britain and in other European countries.*
Europe is not only a project of the elites. Europe is also an everyday experience for so many individuals from all wakes of life. But the gains have been distributed unevenly, and some have lost out. Europe must not be a Union of winners against losers. Europe must be a project of solidarity in which everyone can feel at home. For too long, we have tolerated that economic questions were put above political questions, private profits above public solidarity. “Brussel” has come to stand for red tape, austerity, and lobbyism.
This is not the EU we can want. But the EU is not beyond repair. If the EU we have to today does not seem worth fighting for, let’s make it worth fighting for!
Repairing and improving the European Union seems infinitely better – and also more realistic – than the return to nationalist policies and mindsets. In a globalized world, there are many pragmatic reasons to do so. But the European idea is more than pragmatism. It is the idea of people coming together in peace and solidarity, and in a democratic spirit. This democratic spirit needs to be revived, in the EU and elsewhere. Maybe we have too much taken for granted what the EU has given us. Maybe we haven’t thought enough about how to build cross-boarder solidarity – not just for banks and large companies, but for everyday people, and not just in warm words, but also in tangible advantages. Maybe the EU has been too much about elbows and not enough about helping hands.
But this can change, and it should change, and if we want to, it will change. We’ll find a modus vivendi with Great Britain, but let’s not unravel the Union. Let’s make it better – more democratic, fairer, more participatory. The European idea is too valuable not to keep it alive!
* This blog is an outcome of European friendships and cross-boarder cooperation.