09 Sep 2016

Editorial by Conny Reuter, SOLIDAR Secretary General

Restart – relaunch?

The summer break is officially over and the streets of the EU neighbourhood in Brussels are returning to life. Although, not everyone returns to a working place that is exactly how they have left it before their break. The employees of the American company Caterpillar’s plant in Belgium instantly got confronted with a cut of 2.200 of their colleagues. Not necessarily the positive note on which you want to start the second half of the year. One thing did remain unchanged, namely the most intriguing question on the consequences of BREXIT for Europe and what remains of the European project. As an immediate reaction to the vote in the UK many civil society organisations as well as trade unions have started a process calling for a relaunch or a new narrative, as both inevitable and necessary. It remains to be seen how the institutional side will proceed. The nomination of former Commissioner Barnier is a good sign, but what is the position of the UK government? “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try…” will be the agenda, meaning that the UK government will try to get all the benefits of access to the internal market and free trade. Rules are enshrined in the Treaties and they guide governance. Cherry picking cannot become the new rule. And there is the fourth freedom: freedom of movement. The new wall in Calais, paid for by the UK and built by French public corporations is just another brick in the wall, and simply shameful!

When thinking of the reactions, it is worth remembering the causes for the vote: rising inequalities and policy failure in the UK have led to a lack of confidence in institutions and in politicians in both the EU and the UK. Many communities in the UK feel that they have been left behind in terms of prosperity, employment and educational opportunities. We should also consider intergenerational tensions which have grown since the vote: young people feel set up by the older people who’ve voted to leave and therefore signed them up for an uncertain future. Last but not least, in the UK and elsewhere there is significant fear of immigration and of EU migrants taking jobs which might otherwise have gone to British citizens. Hate crimes have increased, racism and xenophobia are unleashed, both at a worrying level.

All of this notwithstanding, SOLIDAR together with other civil society organisations will continue to work for a European Union which focuses on social justice, equality and human rights, the protection of civic and workers’ rights and the free movement of people.

As a true European network it is also our shared responsibility to commit to ensuring that a European voice is heard and that the debate goes beyond national considerations! For us, relaunching Europe is not a question of a new narrative, but of promoting policies for social cohesion! What is needed are not fences or walls, either in Calais or elsewhere, but a firewall in our society against nationalism, populism and the fear factor.

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