Bureaucratic Brussels has to learn from Brexit experience and deliver overdue reforms
Published 24/06/2016 | 02:30
Britain were not just the ones shouting loudest. They were not the only ones who felt and continue to feel that the European Union was losing its grip.
The shortcomings in dealing first with the 2008 banking and financial collapse, and more recently, the poor and diffuse response to the refugee crisis, showed that the EU was not speaking to the realities of the everyday lives of ordinary citizens.
A rising generation does not especially appreciate what things were like in the immediate aftermath of World War II when food shortages compounded everybody's dismay at the horrors of what had happened for a second time in half a century.
It is hard to expect a young unemployed person to applaud the beautiful reality that Europe has enjoyed its longest period of peace in centuries. True, war between Germany and France, who had fought three appalling wars in 70 years, is now unthinkable.
But history lessons are a poor substitute for a job, for a sense of security, and a feeling that prosperity can be sustained.
Across the world, there is a sense of disillusionment with the political establishment. There is a feeling that political structures are no longer relevant to the problems of unemployment, underemployment, mass migration, and the conflicts which fuel that enforced movement of people.
People see the world changing around them. Many of them seek answers from radical voices on the political extremes of left and right.
A big part of the European Union's role was to mediate the globalised world which will continue to evolve due to technology and other influences.
People are not often reminded of that reality these days - and they should be reminded. But falling back on the old chestnut of better communication is not enough.
Though, for all its efforts and expenditure on communications, the EU elite in Brussels often fail at popular communications and tend to take refuge in talking to each other via more upmarket media outlets. Yet the problem is more fundamental than just communications.
The EU has become increasingly remote over the past two decades. Ordinary people's indifference has been increasingly tinged with antipathy and even outright hostility.
Yes, there is an intrinsic unfairness attaching to all that. The EU has rarely been a popular theme - and it is too easy to blame it when things are not all right with the world. Work is in hand to address the design flaws in the single currency which led to the weak non-response to the economic crash of 2008. We are told that a repeat could not happen and/or would be met with some early ameliorative remedies. Yet the jury is still out on that.
The refugee crisis remains a pungent reproach to everyone. Efforts to find real remedies must be redoubled in all haste.
There is a growing realisation in Brussels, recently eloquently articulated by EU Council President, Donald Tusk, that the EU must do less and do it better. It is time to consolidate, reform and democratise.
It is time to show the EU's 500 million citizens that the Union is relevant and can be effective.
For all its flaws, it has promulgated a code of values across 28 nations which are relevant and vital to every citizen. It would be a travesty if the Brexit referendum were the beginning of a negative chain reaction.
Above all, the EU is now crying out for leaders of idealism and charisma. It is a long time since Commission President Jacques Delors was that dynamic force which led the project, with the full backing of Francois Mitterand and Helmut Kohl.
All three had bitter memories of the horrors of World War II and its aftermath. They responded brilliantly to the events which followed the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989.
By now the EU is larger and more complex. With a core group using the euro there is a risk of factionalism and division. The entire project is on a very dangerous corner.
There is an urgent need for a fundamental re-think on the direction to be taken.