If one thing is clear from Friends of Europe’s annual ‘State of the EU’ event, it is this: Europe’s leaders need to decide whether to hang out with the populist fear and hate gang and their version of events, or with the solidarity gang that see a new future for the EU based on old values of solidarity, rights, justice and inclusion. The latter takes more courage.
Of course we can just follow the advice of UKIP and friends, close all the borders and send some sporadic units out to fight the pirates and terrorists but isn’t that all just a little medieval? Instead Europe needs to reboot the system, change the script and start by radically actively listening to people.
If you keep speaking to the same people, you will keep getting the same outcomes, the same dearth of ideas, of alternative proposals. And more conventions led by older gentleman in suits won’t get us out of this mess (they can be there, though ideally on a proportional basis). Against this, there is a better story of Europe. It’s the one of the massive incredible diversity we have going on and which we mostly fear instead of grabbing it and giving it a big hug and a cup of tea. As Brussels prepares to turn the Bourse building downtown into a beer museum many wonder, where is the museum that tells the story of Brussels incredible diversity that includes European migrants like me and many of you and that challenges the misled ‘hotbed of jihadism’ and ‘soulless rainy EU capital’ brands that do it no justice. Whilst Belgian beer is great, I would rather drink it and then make a toast to diversity rather than the beer itself. This idea of celebrating diversity applies much beyond Brussels and Belgium.
The Friends of Europe event was interesting because the mainstream thought process seemed to go like this. Ok, so Houston we have a problem, right? That problem is not going away, so that’s it, we will have to do something. Then, we’re not communicating Europe so well. Millions of people seem to not understand that all is going well. One particular speaker said that “we need no new ideas”, an idea which is in itself pretty misguided and depressing. He felt that Europe’s main issue is with member state governments using the EU to shift attention away from their own failures. Whilst that is certainly correct and a big fly in the EU ointment, there is just so much more to it. How about giving us a Europe we can be proud of to communicate? How about a Europe that a heck of a lot of people want? Just weeks back, 177 organisations representing millions of open-minded people wrote down a vision for a Europe that is about people and planet which you can check out here.
Taking the idea of a revitalised Europe to peoples’ doorsteps will require both a new plan and listening skills with a good dollop of leaving egos at the door. The conversation on Europe can happen with would-be ‘normal folk’ if leaders can let control go, quite the opposite of that awful Brexitism ‘taking back control’. Allowing the construction of new bottom up local to European to international agendas that are transformative, about common cause and common good, about tackling common and pretty massive challenges like climate change, inequality, poverty and racism. We can start knocking on doors when European leaders wake up and construct a new Europe having listened to Europeans.
It is not possible to have this discussion and not mention the ‘refugee crisis’, a bad label for something which in reality is a crisis of solidarity. This is Europes largest source of shame right now. I’ll say it again: do we accept and blindly follow the narrative of the hate and fear mongers? Or acknowledge that all of us are migrants (how has europe forgotten so fast?) and that migration is inevitable and desirable. We must accept that in the short term we might have ever so slightly more people sharing the cake…whilst in the long-term the cake will get bigger and Europe might even get a little less grey around the temples with all the implications that has for the pensions timebomb.
Against this there really are some good and current stories to tell about Europe. Look at building momentum around #taxjustice. The EU is beginning to say that we don’t accept companies dodging taxes, whilst governments struggle to pay for public services and people – in Europe and outside – are sentenced to a life of opportunities forsaken and being poorer than their parents. That is transformative. That is about the common good. I want to hear more of that kind of European story.