Saturday

15th May 2021

Opinion

Brexit: EU needs to better defend itself

The result of the British referendum has left everybody in a state of a shock. Even though we knew there was a possibility the British people could choose to leave, we hoped - in line with the British bookmakers' odds - it would not happen.

We believed that “truth and love will win over lies and hatred”, as our former president Vaclav Havel used to say. Having seen the false statements of the Leave campaign and seeing how quickly they have backtracked on their promises, it is hard to believe this any longer.

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  • British PM Cameron and his wife after the referendum. Leave campaigners have already begun to backtrack on their promises (Photo: Number 10 Downing Street)

We have heard a variety of surprised reactions from the island nation; sometimes even from supporters of Leave: “I did not think my vote would count” or “I did not want Remain to win by a large margin”.

This referendum was not only a very important lesson in democracy but also a very loud warning for all of us. We must respect the British decision and deal with the fallout but now it is time to focus on ourselves.

The European Union needs to learn how to defend itself and to communicate its benefits clearly. The first and foremost priority for the 27 Member States is to remain committed to the Union and further cooperation. But we also understand and support the need for change.

No more blame game

The European Union is the only feasible and effective framework for our common, peaceful future. The key challenge right now is how to best reflect the genuine concerns of our citizens.

We must prove that the EU listens to their concerns and that the EU is a decisive, functional, and united structure that can deliver quickly and effectively. To make this happen, the work of the EU must now focus on topics that unite us while dropping the issues that could pull us apart.

Unfortunately, over the past year or so our citizens have been facing too many examples where the EU was, for various reasons, far from finding common solutions.

Some of our failures may have directly contributed to the victory of the Leave campaign, especially given the mismanaged approach to some parts of the EU migration policy.

But we have also proved that, even with complex issues like migration, we can find unity and come up with timely and functional solutions to the main challenges - such as in the case of the European Border and Coast Guard, our deal with Turkey or the protection of external borders.

We must be able to be fast and decisive in other areas as well - and most of all avoid the blame game some of us have enjoyed so much lately.

But if we really want to show to our people that the European Union still matters and that it is an idea worth fighting for, we need to restart convergence within and among the member states through fostering economic growth and prosperity making the best possible use of tools the EU offers: investment, innovation, the single market, including the digital and energy single market and resilient labour market.

We should structure the debate on our future around these elements to foster unity and the sense of common European goals. With them, the EU can show action, common approach, and perspective for all member states.

We all know in the back of our minds that we are stronger together. But we need to bring tangible proof of the benefits to our citizens and remind them why we joined the European Union in the first place. And we need to do it fast.

Tomas Prouza is the Czech state secretary for European affairs.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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