We must not lose our vision of a citizens’ Europe

090413_023I will be voting in Greece in the May elections, not for the cynical parties who seek election of MEPs simply to break the EU up and go back to narrow, nationalist governments and ideologies, but for those who retain the vision of a better EU. Why am I pro Europe? Despite the unnecessary suffering caused by the austerity programmes and the hi-jacking of the European Union by banking and business interests, I cling to the ideal of a Europe for all its citizens. And I know why.

I grew up in immediate post WWII England with a mother with a strong commitment to Europe. I remember at each election she undertook door to door campaigning for Jo Grimond’s Liberal party of the 1940s and 50s, then reduced to just one seat in Parliament, which strongly supported European co-operation (now the EU) and opposed imperialism and racism. Others scoffed – she continued lobbying for her understanding of what the post world war Europe should look like. I do not remember her mentioning the UN 1948 Bill of Human Rights, as I was small, but she would have supported it .

The independence movements from Britain and the other European imperialist countries also constituted the essential background in the formation of my understanding of the need for European countries to think again about their attitudes to the world including their often bloody nationalist pasts. Democracy, equality, respect for the other have become accepted fundamental rights , and however faulty and faltering we move towards these goals, eventually we believe they can be achieved. Pride in one’s culture and history cannot be confused with nationalism even if this, particularly via the French Revolution and various independence movements, was a fundamental step towards an understanding of citizenship and universal human rights.

So many of the conflicts in each country over the role of national parliaments versus the European Parliament are the responsibility of small powerful interest groups – from national politicians to international business and banking interests. I feel the future lies far more at local and regional levels where citizens can be active. This is an issue that many have identified as critical in the development and survival of the EU. In Ulrich Beck’s book “German Europe”(2013) he underlines the way in which younger people take the EU and European integration for granted; many have holidays, exchange experiences, education in other Member States. Yet we ignore at our peril the many citizens of all ages for whom the EU is still not a first hand experience and for whom“Brussels”is portrayed as a non democratic set of bureaucratic and business interests. They can be more easily seduced into believing that old nationalist solutions are viable. All of us in NGOs and citizen movements must consider how we can be effective and turn the EU into a place for all it’s inhabitants. Discussions and actions about poverty, minimum income, age friendly environments, social inclusion are just some of the arenas where the EU institutions supported by citizens’ groups can make a difference. We must not lose our vision of a citizens’ Europe.

Liz Mestheneos
Hellas 50+ – Former AGE President

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