So, some of you may know that fifty of us WEA people have come to Belgium to learn more about the theory and practice of the European Union. We’ll visit Ypres and the Menin Gate too. Travelling through Belgium, it is hard not to think of war, with so many towns ending in -cerque, like Duncerque.
Which brings me to Fear. Fear of unemployment, of other people, like migrant workers, of low paid, insecure contracts. I also feel afraid that history is repeating itself. We have populist leaders, elected to power, attacking the ‘establishment elites’, laying blame on minority cultural groups (jews, moslims…).
I see young men and women, marching in uniform on Remembrance Sunday, proudly wearing their red poppies. And I listen to the words of poets telling us how cruel war is, picturing their brutal, needless deaths in words. War is obscene, to paraphrase Harry Patch. Is Russia right now eyeing up Lithuania, testing the NATO alliance. Would the US come to the defence of a fellow NATO member or is it now Europe’s problem?
In one book I read, it asks if the EU works like a capitalist club. Look how it treats the people of Greece, imposing free market economic policies in return for support. Still, Ireland and Portugal are recovering. And the EU does much to protect the rights of working people. In the UK, leaving may jeopardise these rights as successive governments prioritise financial centres over social need.
On the other hand, the Europe is controlling and interfering, isn’t it? Somehow, I feel those who hate the EU have found the simplest words, like the school bully, to connect with people while those who support it fail to express the positive contributions to peace and prosperity clearly it makes.
And this is where I feel the EU project has failed the most. It has somehow lost its way and become nearly all about money and growth, when, in the beginning, it offered hope after two world wars in quick succession.
Before we get too dispirited, I do see signs of hope. Our young people are increasingly active politically. More people generally are talking about politics in Europe, even if many still don’t understand the consequences of Brexit. And I recently had a meeting with a young local councillor. He had given up being a banker to retrain as a teacher in a small comprehensive school, because he wanted to do something more meaningful with his life.
So, we go to the Parliament tomorrow and what do I hope for in the world. I hope for a safe space where people of all persuasions, some antagonistic, can hear one another and find the shared spaces in which to keep the world and everybody on it well and prosperous and feeling safe.
The European Union: A Citizen’s Guide by Chris Bickerton, A Pelican Introduction