If you have ever had a close, meaningful relationship, you will know just how important honest and open communication is – all the more so when that relationship is in jeopardy. However scary it seems, we know deep down that at such fraught moments the unadulterated truth must be spoken out loud – without it there is no real chance of growing closer.
The same goes for the European Union. I absolutely love the EU – but if we Brits get a chance for a second referendum in the UK, we will need to argue for remain in different terms than we did last time. We will need to articulate the value of our continuing relationship to the EU in an honest and grownup conversation. We have learned from 2016 that simply cheerleading will not defeat the elaborate lies we know our opponents will concoct, and the disinformation they have already propagated.
And, sure, the EU is far from perfect but it is much more than the present state of its institutional organs. It is above all an ideal of community born out of the ashes of the second world war and cemented by the values at the heart of the hard-fought peace: democracy, partnership, and human rights.
But it is precisely because I love the EU that I am intent on being honest with all those who are a part of it. Far too often the institutions that are meant to serve us fail to live up to our ideals. No doubt this is no different in Brussels than in Westminster, Washington DC or Paris. Citizens across democracies are desperate for the political class that represents them to champion meaningful answers to their most pressing problems. These days the only visible “solutions” on offer in too many democratic capitals are the fake solutions of the right: endless austerity, hate and renewed nationalism.
It is this scourge of nationalism, this contagious preference for scapegoating over dialogue and sustainable co-creation, that is the greatest threat to the European project. Of course, we find this reality starkly visible in the Brexit project, but it is much wider than the UK.
Now that I sit in the European parliament, I find myself wondering: what would the generation that fought the war, survived the camps and rebuilt Europe think of our present situation? How would they see far-right Viktor Orbán’s capacity to bulldoze and blackmail his way into blocking from the commission presidency any candidate who poses a threat to his own regressive ideology and anti-European objectives? How would they feel about austerity policies and the Fortress Europe that faces migrants seeking safety on our shores? I suspect they would be heartbroken. François Mitterand’s warning to the European parliament in 1995 that “nationalism is war” (“Le nationalisme c’est la guerre”) and his call for European leaders to be the guardians of peace, security and the future seem more prescient than ever.
Yet for too long, we – progressives, liberals, committed Europeans – have been passive in the face of inequality, climate catastrophe and the dangerous narratives of the far right that blame the hope of desperate migrants rather than the greed of the top 1% for Europe’s most pressing ills.
As a first step towards remedy, it is time to draw inspiration from the examples of the founders of the European project who were not afraid to imagine Europe anew. We must now paint together a future for Europe with all the colours of a vibrant, people-powered and youth-centred democracy: a future of universality, shared purpose, humanity and dignity for all.
Let’s start by having European citizens directly elect the president of the commission, giving the European parliament the capacity to propose legislation, and ensuring that human rights and the rule of law are enforced in all member states. Then we need a green new deal financed by a green European investment bank with citizen oversight to reach zero-carbon economies by 2030.
Ours is a future of empathy and solidarity, where as citizens of a shared world Europeans consciously and sustainably lead the way to a better, more democratic, greener future for all. This is the vision that we have to fight for – just as our predecessors fought for the very idea of a European Union in the last century.
Sometimes for relationships to endure we must find the courage to become better versions of ourselves. This is such a time for the European project.
• Magid Magid is a Green party MEP and former lord mayor of Sheffield