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20 April 2016updated 28 Jul 2021 6:09am

To stave off further crises the EU must open up

We must do more than argue for the European Union as it is today or rely on ‘lack of war’ as a way to persuade people to stay.

By Caroline Lucas

Europe is currently in the midst of an existential crisis. The dark winds of populism are sweeping across the continent. Countries’ commitment to working together has been weakened, and the far right is gaining ground.

As progressive politicians from Denmark and the UK we see Europe at a crossroads: do we want to witness the crumbling of the European project of cooperation or do we want to do everything in our power to secure the future of a more democratic EU?

Huge challenges face the EU. The climate crisis will only worsen in years to come. As a result the number of climate refugees will increase. Southern European countries are crippled by enormous scales of unemployment and indebtedness. The continent is hamstrung by rigid financial structures which favours some countries while impoverishing others. Close to Europe’s borders, wars and conflicts are killing innocent people and sending millions into refuge. Not since WWII have there been so many refugees in the world. 

Yet, instead of working together, European nations are increasingly looking inwards – and shutting themselves off from the rest of the world. Borders controls and barbed wire fences are being rebuilt.

Sadly the Brexit debate is exacerbating the problem. A self-imposed hiatus for a progressive debate on the future of the EU has come into force. Out of fear of the British ’no’ vote the European Commission and Parliament have slowed their work rate.

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The British Government’s attempts to appease eurosceptics have inspired the Danish Prime Minister to propose a reduction in child support payments to EU-citizens. This has been celebrated as a political victory, though the proposal’s substance is entirely symbolic. Politicians are increasingly pursuing narrow domestic agendas, which in turn damage their international obligations and responsibility to the European community. But by turning our backs on the European community we are enabling the dismantling of pan-European cooperation.

We are now at a time in history where peace, reconciliation and prosperity can no longer be taken for granted. It is worth remembering that the European Union was founded to make war in Europe unthinkable. And it’s worked. Since the falls of fascism in 1945 our countries – scarred as they were from occupation in Denmark’s case and aerial bombardment in Britain’s– have enjoyed the longest period of peace in Europe since Roman times.

The EU is built on the mistakes of Europeans; it is a pragmatic response to our failure to manage the disruptive forces of nationalism and industrialisation. That’s why allowing our politics to slip back into the hands of the divisive parties of the populist right is so dangerous – and it’s why Britain remaining a member of the EU is so important.

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But we must do more than argue for the EU as it is today – or rely on ‘lack of war’ as a way to persuade people to stay. We believe that it is only by handing more power to Europeans – and opening up the EU – that we can stave off this crisis of legitimacy.

It’s for this reason that we’re both involved in working across borders on projects which will build a more cooperative Europe. We have already launched the project Copenhagen Meeting where a number of progressive European thinkers will meet to cooperate on the creation of a democratic Europe. We have also allied ourselves with the pan-European movement DiEM25 whose declared goal is democratising the EU. DiEM25 does not wish to overthrow the European institutions or dissolve the union but rather engage, expand and improve. We agree.

It is now time to make serious proposals to reorganise the EU institutions to make them work better for Europeans. To start with that means giving the directly elected European Parliament the ability to propose new laws. We also want the monetary union to be made more green and social, so that it would improve the creation of jobs, the transition to sustainable energy and welfare instead of unemployment and a blind pursuit of unilateral economic growth and inequality. The current focus and structure of the Eurozone is deeply flawed – and both of our parties are committed to our own currencies and against further Euro expansion.

The road to more transparency of European decision-making processes must mean, amongst other things, an opening of the European Council and the Euro group’s meetings. As a starter, this could be done by live streaming meetings, to make it easier for citizens to hold the democratically elected representatives accountable for their decisions. Another idea is to demand of the European Central Bank to disclose all summaries of their meetings, which is common practice in a number of other central banks including the Federal Reserve.

We insist on an open negotiation concerning TTIP; the future free trade agreement between Europe and the US. Every document relevant to the negotiations should be made available to the public. We strongly oppose the Commission’s lacking public backing and legitimacy, which was emphasised when Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström as a response to massive criticism stated: “I do not take my mandate from the European people”.

The combination of these crises is a serious challenge. A challenge, which is further amplified by the fact that the solutions being suggested to solve the crises, will only serve to make things worse.  As long as the European institutions’ rationale is solely economic, they will never be able to fundamentally change the crises sweeping across Europe these years. There is an acute need to include green, social and the economic considerations in our effort and contribution to the European community.

The democratising of European institutions will not alone lead to a solution to the grave challenges we face now, but a strengthening of our democracy will help restore the trust of citizens towards European institutions – and, by stopping the EU from dismantling, could help secure that most precious gift of all: a lasting peace on our continent.

The EU can, and will, get better but only if Europeans work together to make it happen.

Ultimately we live in a world where people, love, pollution, goods and crime are not restricted by national boundaries. Our solution to broader-crossing challenges should not be either.               

Caroline Lucas is Green MP for Brighton Pavilion. Rasmus Nordqvist is an MP in the Danish Parliament for the Alternative Party.