‘Project Fear’ is well under way. Both sides in the EU referendum are keen to convince us that everything will be worse if we stay / leave and to scare us into the polling stations on June 23rd. No concern is out of bounds in this bidding war: trade, jobs, economic stability, crime, security, immigration, taxation, even the NHS. Whatever the outcome, it’s sounding like a counsel of despair all-round.
But can there be a ‘Project Hope’ instead? Is there room in this campaign for our desire to make things better rather than simply stop them getting worse? Could this be an opportunity to vote for a constructive European project rather than against everything we dislike? Is it possible that we could be motivated to vote by positive ambitions for our continent?
Is it conceivable to develop a shared vision of Europe as a generous, welcoming place where we value people equally and which puts its skill and ingenuity to wider human use rather than pursuing short term gain? A democratic, egalitarian people’s Europe which sets a benchmark and models a better future for the planet?
Voting to remain doesn’t have to mean endorsing a mean-spirited approach to the rights of migrants. Equally, voting to leave doesn’t have to mean rejecting international partnership and solidarity to address the challenges which face us.
We are often told that the EU robs us of precious national sovereignty and that EU membership means being ruled by an ‘undemocratic’ Brussels bureaucracy. But in our highly globalized, interdependent world can we still speak of national sovereignty and national political authority above all others? As if the powerful global forces which shape our lives; environmental, geopolitical, financial and corporate, are likely to take more notice of one small nation state than a major continental block. Our European institutions may sometimes appear remote, but such supra-national structures are the only hope of taming those forces.
If we want to survive and thrive as a species we will need to address the inequalities, injustices, conflicts and environmental degradation which are so evident wherever we look. We need to use all the human ingenuity we can muster to find solutions to the world’s urgent environmental, economic and social problems.
This surely requires more democracy at all levels, not less.
Given that many of the issues we face are global or continental, we should be developing the democratic structures to allow us to act collectively at those levels. In our continent, we have a head-start with a unique multi-national directly elected assembly, the European Parliament, where our voice can and should be heard. Its legitimacy in supra-national European matters could be strengthened and it could have a greater role in setting the direction of the EU and holding the unelected commission to account.
When we vote for our Euro-MPs in Europe-wide elections we should be shaping policy and deciding on the priorities for Europe-wide government. This isn’t to undermine our nation states but to recognize the complexity of the challenges we face – few of which are contained, or containable, within a single state. The principle of subsidiarity ensures that the actions of European institutions should be limited to Europe-wide concerns and local competencies kept as close to local communities as possible.
This referendum is a historic opportunity and we will be making a momentous choice. Such a decision is not to be taken lightly and however we vote, we would do well to do so in hope rather than in fear.
[I shall be voting to remain in the European Union because I think it is the best way to ensure we can contribute to the creation of a more democratic, more social Europe.]