Europe needs a new and credible story

What after Brexit? In the Dutch current affairs programme Nieuwsuur on Saturday June 25th, NRC-journalist Caroline de Gruyter argued that governments in Europe should shoulder the responsibility of explaining what they are doing in Brussels. This justly call feels like too little too late for the Eropean governments. But, more important is that in this way something fundamental remains out of consideration. Because the citizens’ opinion should be listened to well for once. A Brexit-voter complained that politicians ignored  citizens’ grievances for years on end, but did worry about less important matters. This British person said, “ask people if they trust a politician and 99 percent of them will say they do not. The same holds good for bankers and, sorry, also for journalists.” (liberal daily NRC Handelsblad, June 25th/26th) This distrust is widely spread. For example in various countries which now also want an exit-referendum. Equally loud is it expressed in the call for resignation of the (chairman of the) European Committee. What does it constitute to take the responsibility and give an explanation? Distrust is rooted deeply.

New gods
Dispatching the citizen’s opinion is a bit too simply spoken. NRC-journalist Tom-Jan Meeus voiced the problem of our days sharply: “The new Gods of politics are capitalism, individualism and populism. The trinity allowing each citizen to be highly content with his own  ego and to search all problems outside their own competences.’ (NRC Handelsblad, March 19th) Various powers in our society and political order hold each other in an iron stranglehold.

Last man
Therefore Brexit forces us to go one step further. Substituting one person for an other is not the way. And governments changing their manner of answering for their deeds will appear to be a cosmetic solution. Things will have to be taken more seriously. Faith is gone. And as was shown by the statement of the British exit-voter, not only faith in (European ) politics. Notthing less is necessary but a new European story people can believe in. And exactly that  is the trouble. For talking about  such a story will not be that easy. Even admitting that we need a (new) story will be difficult, for the very simple reason that we westerners are not used to his subject anymore. After abolishing all former tall stories and the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) we started to believe in the prophecy of the ‘end of history’ (Fukuyama). We needed not believe in anything but ourselves, ‘the Last Man’. To our horror this man appears not to (be able to) have trust. What now!? We are confronted by our void and this is an utterly inconvenient feeling.

New  impetuousness
A pitfall for believers is that they think they will easily be able to show the way because they do believe. Reading an article by Peter van Dalen and Gert-Jan Segers (ERC/ChristenUnie) in NRC Handelsblad of June 24th made me think of this. On the day of the Brexit, of all days, they remarked that ChristenUnie had always had a plausible Europe-vision and they gave six suggestions for the future. Generally populists act as follows: on serious events they say that they had always been right and they indicate a direction about which it can be discussed what its relation is to reality. Believers, however, take into account that there is a higher authority who is high above us and our history. On far-reaching events like Brexit, believers feel the insignificance of man and pray for wisdom.

Although this is an exciting period we need not lose courage. New elan lives in Europe. For example, in Switzerland the relatively politically inexperienced twenty-five-year-old Flavia Kleiner defeated the populists. In a referendum on the question if foreigners with a criminal record had to be expelled, she knew how to convince her fellow-countrymen that this was a ‘terrible referendum’. This is interesting. Suddenly confidence revives and is pronounced. Who knows if the young voters in the UK who massively neglected the Brexit-referendum were driven by such an intuition. This new generation can tag along with old campaigners who tell inspiring stories. Think for example of the vice chairman of the European Committee, Mr Timmermans. When last year the European Union nearly broke down he wrote a heart-warming  plea  for  solidarity (Broederschap). Christians can join this party and ponder how they can show a serving attitude.

Dutch christian daily Nederlands Dagblad, June 29th 2016.

Cf. Alternative for European void, NRC Handelsblad & NRC Next, Juni 11th 2016.

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