Clearly, from the standpoint of a Europe riven by divisions, and fearful of the rise of populist, demagogic movements in many parts of the world, we have to hope that the EU does have a future.
It is salutary to remember that the project to create a political (and not just an economic) union stems from the horror that was World War II; in fact, many of the advances that the world has made in the last 70 years are driven by the memories, now fading, of just what war means. There are precious few men and women left who have experienced the atrocities that conflict inevitably produces; but it was the live visions of bombings, rapes and killing, as well as the hatred and xenophobia that swept across the world, that led not just to the EU and NATO, but also the World Council of Churches and other global faith-based organisations, such as the Lutheran World Federation. This transnational cooperation, designed to aid understanding, tolerance, the development of human rights and prosperity has been largely responsible for the long period of relative peace that Europe (and indeed the world) has enjoyed.
So the priority for the EU has to be to ensure that Brexit does not unpick the first stitch which leads to the unravelling of the EU knit. The potential consequences of a Union, disintegrating among recrimination and increased protectionism, are too unpleasant to contemplate.
How to do this?
Firstly, the press should be brought onside. It may have been the slow and persistent drip of anti-EU ridicule in British media which tipped the balance towards the Brexit vote – stories of bent bananas, ridiculous regulations and bans on Milk of Magnesia. So emphasising the huge and manifold positives of a peaceful and cooperative Europe (without false optimism or manipulation) has to be a priority.
Secondly, somehow a balance needs to be found between economic drivers, and the understanding that the overall aims of the EU are political and democratic. If the EU is seen as simply a way for nation states to ensure financial profits or growth in GDP, then there is no moral imperative in maintaining the Union, for there may be other alliances which are of greater economic advantage (as, indeed, is being argued at present by Brexit supporters, sadly without much concrete detail to support the theory). The higher vision and more noble aims have to be rediscovered and republicized.
Thirdly, there needs to be a clearer analysis of the benefits of EU membership as against the chimera of total sovereignty. It is a cliché to say that in today’s globalised world no nation state has complete control of its policies; so in truth leaving the EU will not restore anyone’s complete independence. It would also help if this analysis were to be made available in simple terms, so that it could be used in dialogue with nationalist politicians and rabble-rousers.
Lastly, trans-European personal links could be strengthened. In post-colonial Tanzania, President Nyerere followed a very far-sighted, if prescriptive, policy. To encourage national cohesion across boundaries of ethnic and tribal origins, newly qualified teachers from the coast were sent to the western borders to serve; and doctors from Kilimanjaro region to Mtwara in the south. It was very effective; and Tanzania has never suffered from the sort of internecine conflict that its neighbours, Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi have been plagued by. This is, of course, also the aim of study programmes like Erasmus; but perhaps there might be some way of expanding these to give a greater number of EU citizens the opportunity of experiencing life elsewhere.
The EU is a project that cannot be allowed to fail.
About the author
Jāna Jeruma-Grinberga is the chaplain of St Saviour’s Anglican Church in Riga Latvia. She was installed to this post in October 2014. Prior to taking up this post she served as the bishop of the Lutheran Church in Great Britain taking office in January 2009. She is the daughter of the Latvian composer Albert Jerums and was in exile with her family during the communist era. She studied biochemistry at Univeristy College London and trained to become a nurse before feeling called to the priesthood, studying at North Thames Ministerial Training Course at Oak Hill Theological College and being ordained in 1997. Prior to becoming a bishop, she was a pastor in the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in Great Britain. She is probably the only woman Bishop in the world who speaks both Latvian and Swahili; her passions outside the church include cricket, music and politics.