On 9th May each year people across Europe celebrate the achievements of the European Project that began as the Coal and Steel Community in 1952 and has now grown into the European Union.
Its origin was among the the ruins of the second world war that many see as a continuation of the Great War of 1914-18 – the war that itself was to ‘end all wars’. But it didn’t and by 1945, Europe lay in ruins with more than 100 million dead in both conflicts and countless more maimed and traumatised.
Witnessing the destruction, leaders of politics, business and civil community saw that it would be through greater cooperation between states, not insular nationalism, that such destruction could be avoided in the future. As a result of collectively pursuing common interests, Europe has enjoyed the longest period of peace in in modern times. Now, seventy years on from the close of hostilities, war between France, Germany Britain and Italy is unthinkable.
Starting with 6 nations the EU incorporates a community of 28 countries, all committed to democracy and the peaceful resolution of differences between them. With stability has come prosperity and rising standards of living for many, but not for all.
The new politics of Europe, built on negotiation not war, required new institutions that grew as the community grew. Inevitably this new power base created tensions between the traditional institutions of state and the developing multinational structures. Tensions that have brought us to today’s political crisis.
Nation states are not built into the fabric of the planet, they are a fairly recent political development in world history. But their ruling elites have become used to pursuing their own exclusive minterests, frequently neglecting the needs of the more humble of their citizens. The notion of ceding some of their power to a supranational structure is an anathema to the nationalists.
But there is another reason for this tension. Prosperity within Europe has grown considerably since 1945, but it has not been shared fairly. Since the 1980’s the gap between high and low earners has widened and poverty is again on the rise. The institutions of the EU, like those of the nation states have failed to ensure that all are included in the growing prosperity of the community.
At present it is the EU that is taking the greater blame for the inequalities and hardships that a growing number are suffering. National governments have been quick to pass the blame for their own failings on to the EU so as to protect the interests of their own powerful elites.
This blame game is not helpful and serves to obscure the multiple causes of our present difficulties. The world and the nature of the problems we face has changed considerably since the institutions of the EU were set up. It has changed beyond recognition since the institutions of the nation states were founded. Neither national nor European institutions have shown themselves prepared or capable of adapting to the new realities of the twenty first century.
The paternalistic nationalism of the ruling elites has run its course. Universal education and the empowerment of women has seen to that. But also the EU, as it is currently managed has not shown the flexibility and responsiveness required to manage the new political agenda. Both need reform.
Today’s agenda is both global and local. Climate change, environmental destruction and the movement of people and goods are global needing transnational structures to comprehend them and manage their impacts. But matters affecting people’s daily lives are experienced locally and need responses that are sensitive to local patterns of need and expectancy. Good policy that will enhance people’s lives can not be delivered from on high, be it Westminster or Brussels. Democratic and empowered local government is needed, working in a partnership of equals with national and European structures. Isolationism, like nationalism is a dead end.
The days of domination of people by remote hierarchies are coming to an end. People are now too well educated and informed. No matter how much the elite try to control the propaganda machine and fill people with false news, they will be unable to counter the free flow of global information. People want more control of their lives, they want to feel that they are being noticed and treated fairly.
Greens call for the reform of politics both in Europe and at home. Demonstrations and protests show that people are finding their voice, they will be heard and those politicians who don’t listen will be swept aside. We want to see a revival of local politics with more local decision making free of the dead hand of Westminster. We want to see voting reform so that all votes matter. We want to remain in the EU, working from within to shape its future in to an accountable transparent body working resolve global problems, helping to build a secure and sustainable world. A partnership of the people of Europe can make all this happen.
[Mike Shipley 8 May 2019]