Where shall we go? Contemplating Europe's future
On the 15-16 of September European Heads of State will converge on Bratislava to discuss the “Future of Europe”. For once, this is not just hyperbole. It is indeed the future of Europe that is at stake; and not just of Europe.
The EU is the only available and proven mechanism to coordinate responses to the global challenges facing its half a billion citizens. It has a sometimes patchy, but still impressive track record of leading the world in response to the ongoing ecological crisis. If the EU was to collapse, or its ability to enforce common rules melted away, there is simply no way that individual and divided national governments could or would effectively confront climate change and biodiversity loss.
Europe faces a crisis driven by tensions over the economy, migration, terrorism and globalization. But a real flood of scientific evidence is telling us that the biggest problem we face is the collapse of the ecosystems that sustain our society and without which there can be no economy, no democracy, no peace. 2016 is on track to beat all previous climate change records, while biodiversity loss is now reckoned to have gone beyond any safe limits.
As leaders meet in Bratislava, they will be tempted to exploit the weakness of the EU to get their way on this or that national interest. But if that is the spirit that animates everyone, the result is inevitable collapse. A weak EU will lead to more rule breaking and less policy response, which in turn will lead to further loss of credibility of the common rules and polices in a death spiral. The outcome will be individual governments trying to protect their citizens by imposing uncoordinated national rules. This will splinter and ultimately kill the common market and hasten the closure of borders. A Europe of small closed countries mistrusting each other will be able to do nothing about the deepening ecological crisis.
Hopefully, they will be wise enough to choose a better path. Nobody has a ready-made road map to a better Europe. But a few key guiding principles can act as a compass. Here are some of them:
- Solidarity and unity are even more important at this troubled time. Europe must not forget what it looked like when it was divided between competing states each chasing national interests at the expense of each other.
- The ability of the EU to elaborate common policies and rules, and to enforce the commonly agreed rules must be preserved.
- The EU must be refocused on delivering societal outcomes. The power of commercial lobbies and vested interests must be curtailed and policies redirected toward serving citizens’ needs.
- The Sustainable Development Goals offer the best framework for building a better Europe.
- Tackling climate change and biodiversity loss should be a top priority. Doing so can help reconnect the EU to its citizens and help create a better, more robust economy that provides decent jobs and wellbeing for all.
Most of this newsletter is dedicated to ‘the future of Europe”, to what we need to do, together, to ensure a better future for all of us, people, birds and the rest of the living world.