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Home Opinion Time to make Europe relevant again
Brexit - Italy

Time to make Europe relevant again

Sandro Gozi - 30 June 2016

Italy will defend Europe from rampant nationalism, but the EU must no longer be perceived as the experiment of a small elite

June 23 will be remembered as a historic date for Europe. Unfortunately, not for the reasons we would have wished for.

Brexit is now a reality, for each side of the channel. We have to respect the outcome of the consultation and start working on the next steps.

As an Italian and European who firmly believes in the EU, my first concern is about the future of our community. As a friend of Britain, my other concern is to keep an effective political partnership in the future. In each moment of the Brexit campaign, when I was asked about the possible consequences, I used to say that irrespective of the outcome things would have to change in Europe. I would have rather seen remain prevailed, but I stick to my point. 

Make no mistake, when I say that things have to change I am not referring to EU-UK relationship. The British people took a decision that deserves our respect. And respect – for the Brits as well as for our citizens – means also devising a clear path for the future: charting the waters, deciding the course and setting off negotiations without hesitation or uncertainty. Starting today to shape the EU-UK relationship of tomorrow. In some respect, this means that “change” is the new normal in the relationship across the channel.

When I say that “things have to change” I actually refer to the European Union as such. Our duty in these difficult times is to defend the EU through change. The European Union needs profound and urgent change. Whatever your opinion on the Brexit campaign might be, nobody can deny that, as of late, anti-EU sentiment has been steadily on the rise across Europe, not only in the UK. 

Extremist parties and populist forces are gaining ground among voters by delivering oversimplified messages we are not able to contrast. The Brexit debate was dominated by politicians who speculated on fears and frustration, exaggerating emergencies and troubles such as, for instance, immigration, and often using EU as an easy scapegoat. 

This is not a unique British phenomenon. To some extent, the same feeling is spreading elsewhere in Europe, deepening old and new cleavages: metropolitan/provincial, high/low education, the winners/losers of globalisation. The consequences are there to be seen: political instability, crisis of traditional forces due to the rise of extremes, increasing mistrust among members of communities (from local to transnational). If we are not able to reverse this flow, it will be more and more difficult to defend the conquests of decades of commitment and hard work for the ideals of integration: including free movement, for instance. Which means our fundamental freedom.

Italy will keep on defending the European Union from rampant nationalism, and will keep on fighting for a true and deep change. If Europe is still perceived as the experiment of a small elite, there will be more referendums and more defeats for those who care about the cause of Europe.

The lesson we can take from Brexit is that we need to care. We need to ask ourselves why so many citizens feel the EU distant, irrelevant, even adversarial. It is among the poorest and least educated that prevailed Brexit. Well, we must go back and be relevant to them. We must learn how to talk to the head of the European people, but especially to their heart.

In this vein, the Italian Democratic party (PD) is strongly committed to relaunch the European case among its citizens. We believe European progressives should be even more firm and united in defending the EU, its achievements and the opportunities it provides. To this purpose, we definitely need a Labour party fully engaged in the fight to reaffirm the UK's European stance. 

Europe is our home: we founded it, we made it grow, and we will continue to fight for this idea. In Europe we have been living in peace for 70 years, and there are too many transnational challenges that lie ahead to face them being disunited. Migration, security, social justice and the creation of new jobs, the environment, rule of law.

Let’s build the EU of tomorrow. We owe it to our children and our grandchildren, because they have the right to live in a land of freedom and hope.

Sandro Gozi is a Democratic member of the Italian Chamber of Deputies and the state secretary to the Italian prime minister responsible for European affairs

This is a contribution to Policy Network's work on The Future of the EU.

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The Policy Network Observatory promotes critical debate and reflection on progressive politics. It is centre-left orientated but determinedly challenges social democracy. It is pro-European but restlessly questions EU institutions and practices.

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