Friday

20th Jul 2018

Opinion

From Greece to Scotland, we stand by Europe

Rome wasn't built in a day and Europe is also a work in progress. What we don’t seem to remember, though, is that Rome wasn't dismantled in a day either.

The 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome – signed on 25 March, and establishing the European Economic Community (EEC) – finds Europe as we know it, under threat.

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The victory of a pro-European, Emmanuel Macron, in the French presidential election, should not be an invitation to underplay the unprecedented success of the Front National running on a Frexit agenda, the triggering of Article 50 for the UK's EU exit, or Juncker's white paper openly questioning the current EU model.

Last year's events have shattered any remaining taboos regarding the reversibility of the European project.

In such a political climate, we feel compelled as national members of parliament to take on political and personal responsibility and speak-up against the toxic narrative engulfing aspects of the European political debate.

National parliamentarians have a critical role to play in European politics. Both institutionally, through the mechanisms of review granted by the Lisbon Treaty, and more importantly, as the elected representatives of European citizens, they shape the European debate and provide a closer link with citizens than the European institutions.

There are circa 10,000 members of parliaments across Europe with the power to approve or reject billions worth of Eurozone bailout packages and EU trade deals such as CETA – the EU-Canada agreement.

National Parliaments are essential for the accountability, and legitimacy of the Union’s actions.

Open letter

This reasoning motivated us to draft an Open Letter for Europe, calling European policy makers to take to the stage in unity, across borders and political parties – in order to shape an inclusive and constructive conversation on the future of Europe.

The debate about the future of the EU cannot just take place in the European institutions; in fact, the driving forces of this process are national, not European.

We have a responsibility to take a stand and explain the European project and defend its importance, whilst engaging with our constituents in open conversations about the future direction of this common project.

National Parliamentarians are uniquely placed to be able to facilitate these conversations and act as messengers of the people's will.

More exchanges on the topic of the EU need to be established at the local levels, and it is our duty as parliamentarians to ensure that this is done.

The EU has made us greener, healthier, wealthier, and fairer; it has provided more than 60 years of peace on the European continent; it has allowed the free movement of people around Europe and has facilitated travelling – improving education opportunities, allowing the European youth to experience other EU realities through the Erasmus programme and facilitating fruitful ties.

We have come to take this all for granted. Yet, there is no denying that the present configuration of the EU has its weaknesses.

In Greece, a traditionally strong pro-European country, support for the EU has plummeted dramatically as a crippled economy is consistently blamed solely and exclusively on the “troika” of the European Commission, European Central Bank (ECB), and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The majority of the blame indeed lies with successive Greek governments, but it is necessary to make other EU countries understand the hardships of the Greek people and fix the structural problems of the Greek economy whilst restoring Greek pride and Greek sovereignty.

The other side

Scotland offers a view from the other side.

Our own political representatives which, by failing to establish a constructive and productive dialogue with their European counterparts and by miscommunicating Europe's challenges and opportunities, have reinforced the disconnect between the European project and its citizens – culminating in the Brexit vote of June 23rd.

There is no such thing as a UK-exceptionalism in this instance, and we should guard ourselves from assuming this could just as easily happen elsewhere. For this reason, we urge national parliamentarians not to cocoon themselves in their respective pro-European bubbles.

Throwing out the baby with the bath water should not be the solution. A collective effort to return to a more prosperous and peaceful union, what Europe has always striven for, is our responsibility.

We must return to the roots of the European project, and reconnect with the reasons why, as Europeans, we embarked on such a journey together – using it as inspiration in our way forward.

Now more than ever, if the EU is to restore its capacity as a prosperity and stability provider, what it needs from its political leaders is more constructive dialogue, a dialogue we national policy makers must be the driving forces behind.

The Open Letter for Europe Initiative is a first step to instigate collaboration across borders, encourage national parliamentarians to recognise their role in shaping the future of Europe and drive a conversation around forging new compromises and a renewed social contract between the EU and its citizens.

The full text of the open letter for Europe is available here.

A double-interview with S. Gethins and H. Theocharis is available here.

Stephen Gethins is an MP in the Scottish National Party (UK), and Harry Theocharis is an independent MP (Greece). Gethins and Theocharis met during the Athens convening of the Mercator European Dialogue, a network of National Parliamentarians from across Europe.

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