Dear Graduates of the S&D School of Democracy,
One day after what is undoubtedly the greatest setback in the history of the process of European integration, I decided to write to you, who
represent its future, or at least its hope.
Like you, I have grown up without the experience
of war, assuming that frontiers were destined to become a thing of the past, and especially that Europe would be a key arena for the construction of a better, freer and more equitable world.
This, if any, has been the political dream of our generation. One that we inherited from previous generations, to be sure. But also one that distinguishes us from them, because – let’s face it – the dreams of their youth speak to us from afar, and in a language we don’t always understand. European integration, on the other hand, seemed concrete. Even too mundane. To the extent that we may have taken it for granted.
The Brexit vote is clearly a wake-up call. But it is important to read it correctly, in order to draw the right political lessons.
First, what we have witnessed is an unequivocal rejection of this Europe; that is, of the way in which the process of European integration has so far been conducted, and of the policies it has served to foster. There should be no equivocation about this: the sentiment is widespread across Europe, and far from reducible to British provincialism. It’s been staring us in the face for years and the Brits have only been the first to have the courage to make it official, so far.
Secondly, there is a deep split in our societies between a predominantly forward- and outward-looking, young and urban elite who still entertains the dream that another Europe can grow out of this one; and a predominantly backward- and inward-looking, extra-urban and more elderly majority that prefers to retreat to the sense of security afforded by the framework of the nation-state.
The greatest mistake those of us who belong to the first group can make is to fancy we could build another Europe without – or even in spite – of the latter group. We already see a penchant for this, in the form of all those who say it was a mistake to have a referendum in the first place, because ‘the people’ cannot be trusted with such important decisions.
This is just a thinly-veiled form of anti-democratic resentment, which only serves to further exacerbate the very division which is at the root of our present crisis. If another Europe is to become possible, it can only happen through democracy, not in spite of it, as has so far been the case.
Which is why it must start from the bottom; that is to say from you, from us. The experience of the School of Democracy organized by the S&D Group in the European Parliament – and especially the online community of graduates that has grown out of that – is certainly a small and still rather marginal experience. But it is also a figure, or of you prefer a laboratory, for a different Europe that is still to come.
The fact that you have from the beginning been given center-stage, and have increasingly also taken up the drivers’ seat in this experience, is of no small political significance. It shows that, at the grassroots, there is a population of Europeans that is both willing and able to govern itself, creatively and progressively.
And the fact that the S&D Group has given you this opportunity, and now even invited you to voice your proposals in the European Parliament, is a sign that they are beginning to understand things will have to change too. It is a window of opportunity we cannot afford to miss.
Now more than ever there is a need for young and progressive Europeans to articulate their vision of an alternative Europe, in order to make it into the better, freer and more equitable polity others will once again want to join, not leave.
Carlo Invernizzi Accetti is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the City University of New York (City College) and Associate Researcher at the Centre d’Etudes Européennes de Sciences Po (Paris).
Disclaimer: This Post reflects solely the author’s opinion and do not represent the platform as a whole