Nobody can make it out here alone
How to find my soul a home…..
…..I came up with one thing
And I don’t believe I am wrong
Can make it out here alone”
These lyrical words by Maya Angelou, American poet and civil-rights activist, reveal in their simplicity the fundamental truth that makes humans what we are, a species that needs relationships, cooperation and togetherness. Ecology teaches us that nobody can make it alone, from individual human beings to entire countries.
The Brexit vote is a trauma for all of us who believe in this, who believe in Europe, who believe in its record and its potential to make life better for all European citizens. For us in BirdLife Europe it is even more shocking. Engaged on a daily basis as we are with EU politicians and policy on behalf of nature in Europe, we know firsthand the positive force the EU has been. Its legislation and funding have been the driving force for a generation and more saving our continent’s biodiversity, including in the UK, and cleaning up our environment. EU legislation underpins many success stories and fundamental progress in nature conservation. But as of the UK vote, a cloud of doubt and anxiety hangs over our efforts.
The UK referendum campaigns were both criticized for relying more on rhetoric than fact. But we must admit the “Leave” campaign did strike a chord with half the British people. A majority clearly feel disaffected by “the system” and identify the EU as an incarnation of what they fear: whether that is globalisation, unchecked immigration, or economic hardship, all changes that affect their daily lives but are too complex to understand and too remote to influence.
And Europe has already been struggling with economic and financial crises, agonising about how to deal with the refugees knocking on its doors and has been in political paralysis for years. Brexit risks knocking the whole continent off course, with unforeseen consequences.
And yet, the EU is needed more than ever before. History teaches us the dangers of insularity, with the risk that politicians and demagogues could splinter our society, pitting group against group, rather than working together for a common cause. The formidable societal and environmental challenges of our time cannot be addressed, in our view, by small fragmented nation states competing with each other in a less than zero sum game.
The EU has played an important role in expanding human rights throughout the continent, ensuring equality, freedom of movement, better health and food standards, and, somehow forgotten, the decades and decades of peace between nations; nations which sadly have all too often clashed violently in the past with the attendant enormous loss of life and devastation.
But nowhere is this record of accomplishment and further potential more evident than in our efforts to protect and enhance nature. Nature and birds know no borders and make our shared environment the most visible arena in which trans-national cooperation is vital. Climate change, biodiversity loss and the damage to ecosystems risk making large parts of our planet uninhabitable in the near future. European nature laws have staved off the worst of these outcomes. We need a strong EU to drive the ecological transition of our economy and society, but an EU that is fundamentally reformed and brought closer to the needs of its citizens:
- Both EU and national governments must urgently re-gain their democratic legitimacy by showing that they serve the interests of their citizens and not those of a few opaque elites.
- The majority of citizens across the continent want a transition in our policy-making and problem solving system to one in which protection of nature and ecological sustainability are incorporated as essential pillars. At BirdLife we know first-hand the need for European cooperation to achieve this. Decision makers and citizens across the continent must keep working together to protect our common natural capital.
- Ideological deregulation has failed. The idea that pledges to cut red tape and roll back rules will assuage the populist drive has proven delusional. We do not need to cut red tape. We need good laws that are properly enforced and implemented so they protect and empower citizens. Clichés and caricatures of laws and regulations designed to protect our rights, health and safety are no substitute for intelligent policy and political leadership.
- When governments, including the EU, keep ignoring facts and evidence, they discredit fact-based policy making and legitimise dangerous and unpredictable anti-rational forces. We need a concerted effort to put facts and evidence back at the heart of policy making.
- On the other hand we can no longer hide societal choices behind technocratic arguments. Policies have winners and losers and these must be addressed openly. Open debate – honest, fact-based and transparent – is the bedrock of a healthy democracy.
- Finally, people need to be treated with respect and heard when they cast their vote or have the freedom to express themselves, whether it is in a national vote or an EU consultation.
After Brexit, the EU cannot just muddle along and hope to survive. We need a fundamental societal debate about what sort of Europe we want. We are firmly convinced that there is a majority across the Europe and in the UK, regardless of their views on the EU and its institutions, in favour of a society based on fairness and solidarity, and on giving the next generation a healthy and peaceful planet to live and prosper on. But the debate must be embraced and the argument won through discussion and evidence worthy of the 500+ million citizens in our democracies, worthy of the principles for which men and women have fought and died, and which are the foundation of this unique and exceptional approach to a sustainable future of peace and well-being across our continent.
“Storm clouds are gathering
The wind is gonna blow
The race of man is suffering
And I can hear the moan,
Can make it out here alone”
As many on this continent do, we see storm clouds gathering, we feel the wind blowing. But we also believe in this dream, which is the very essence of the BirdLife Partnership. We cannot make it alone!
At BirdLife Europe, we are absolutely determined to bring our experience, our voices, our large membership across the continent and our profound enthusiasm into the debate, and help build a better future for all living species, together.
Join us in this epochal challenge!
The BirdLife Europe and Central Asia Team