The EU needs to rebuild itself from the ground up, not top down

Natalie Nougayrède writes: Diplomatic choreography won’t be enough to restore what has been shattered, and what the Brexit vote has starkly reflected: there is no longer confidence among European citizens that a collective endeavour of solidarity and values can deliver what they need and want.

The confidence of the lower and middle classes is now closer to zero than it ever has been. Remember recent surveys: only 38% of the French view the EU positively today (the same poll said it was 44% of the British).

The French historian Fernand Braudel once wrote that “history can be divided into three movements: that which moves rapidly, moves slowly and appears not to move at all”. History is now accelerating right before our eyes. It is moving swiftly in a bad direction, and for those who, as I did, witnessed the spread of democracy and the reunification of the continent that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, or who were brought up to think that Europe’s future lay in the coming together of its disparate parts, it is an ominous and painful moment.

The British divorce will be messy and drawn out. It will divert energy needed to address other challenges like security, unemployment, migration, and the geopolitical chaos in the EU’s neighbouring regions. It could make it even harder to address the gap that increasingly divides the political elites from the public mood across the continent. Pro-EU politicians are in denial if they think more European integration slogans are the solution. Citizens simply won’t buy it. For more than 10 years now, EU-related referendums have been a disaster. The federalist-minded European constitution project was rejected in 2005, and this year the Netherlands voted against an EU association agreement with Ukraine. Hungary is due to hold a referendum on EU refugee quotas. Expect a no.

If something can be salvaged, the EU needs to rebuild itself from the ground up, not top down. It is a folly to think measures to fix eurozone governance will suffice, however needed those may be. Anyone who has regularly travelled across Europe in recent years and sounded out grassroots perceptions knows that something else is lacking: a sense of purpose, a belief that Europe stands for something positive and that it can act in people’s interest. [Continue reading…]

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