The European project is being challenged as never before. The British referendum on June 23 could actually end in Britain leaving the European Union. In other countries, too, euro-sceptic movements are gaining ground. Tensions are rising between Northern and Southern Europe as well as between the East and the West of our continent. Both the Eurozone crisis and the refugee crisis are putting a huge strain on Europe’s cohesion and solidarity.
At United Europe’s Young Professionals Seminar in London, 22 young Europeans representing 16 nations pursued an intensive two-day debate on “How to Keep Europe Together.” With widely differing viewpoints and convictions around the table, it proved difficult to agree a comprehensive vision of Europe’s future. Yet among this group of outstanding young professionals, there was complete consensus not only on the need to keep Britain in the EU, but also on the importance of safeguarding the gains of European integration.
As individual countries, we Europeans are small dots in a global sea, which is dominated by large and powerful nations. The only way we will have any influence in world economics and global politics is if we act together. We should be able to do so, as we have the necessary commonality of history and purpose.
European integration should be a choice that can be endorsed by both the minds and hearts of our people. We can achieve that if we:
Clearly and loudly communicate what we have achieved together:
- Peace: After centuries of bloodshed, Europe has enjoyed 70 years of peace. Peace continues to be the most important argument for European integration, and we need to put it back at the center of the debate. As violent conflicts are coming closer to the European frontiers, our societies more than ever need to stay united.
- The Single Market: Europe is the biggest free trading bloc in the world, and thanks to the single market, it is a preferred place to do business and can act as a true global player.
- The Four Freedoms, in particular the freedom of people to move freely across Europe are an enormous achievement and must stay intact. Abandoning the Schengen agreement and re-establishing border controls on the continent would cause enormous economic, societal and symbolic damage.
Focus on how we can continue to progress together and envisioning:
- How we can find solutions for the refugee crisis that rely on EU member states and citizens themselves working together, extending solidarity and respect for our common values and ideals.
- How we can complete the single market, focusing in particular on the labour market and the single digital market.
- How we can increase investment in order to rekindle growth and lessen the gap between Northern and Southern, Eastern and Western Europe.
- How we can make our institutions more accountable, focusing on individual and collective responsibility.
Making this happen will require great political leadership as well as a huge effort at communicating our achievements and a clear focus on Europe in education and culture. But unless we succeed in winning back the hearts and minds of Europeans themselves, we will be ever smaller dots in a dangerous environment.