Few things are as powerful as an idea whose time has come, but one of those few things must be being confronted with the crowd that believes in that idea. Throughout our continent, the Pulse of Europe has brought citizens to the streets in support of the idea of Europe. Europeans are rallying around a common cause, and it is a beautiful thing to see.
Yes, we do need to give the European Union a fair chance at reforming into a structure that is up for the challenges of our times: economic stagnation, increased demands for participation, environmental degradation, the inflow of refugees, the growing geopolitical instability in the world.
The EU has dizzying potential, but we must not be naïve about how we will achieve it: things will not magically improve.
Taking a Step Back
So, among all the hopefulness and celebration that is the Pulse of Europe, let’s allow ourselves a brief moment of reflection. Let us compare what we call for in the streets and squares, with what is being offered by our governments: where we seek union and solidarity, they pursue what they call our “national interests”, selfishly, divisively and competitively. Where we seek alternatives and new ideas, they suggest continuity and small tweaks masquerading as reform (“multiple speeds”, “variable geometry”). Where we call and march for change, they use economic determinism to keep the status quo.
If we are the true Pulse of Europe, then the heart of the European project is not the European Union, but us: the peoples of Europe – and it is high time we claim our rightful place at the driving seat of Europe.
Wave the Flag = Step in Line?
These demonstrations might inspire some of us, but they also serve – directly or indirectly – to strengthen the legitimacy and resolve of those who maintain the status quo. Perhaps the reason we wave the flag and call for unity is because we fear the alternative: disintegration, instability, division – war. But what if that is not the only alternative? What if there is a third way?
The flag that Pulse of Europe demonstrators wave, and the European project itself, have been designed around bigger interests; interests that we are told are our interests too. Regardless of where you stand on that debate, you must agree that ultimately the decision-making power does not lie with us, but with unelected bureaucrats, government officials and lobbyists. This is not some conspiracy theory; it is simply the way the EU was designed to work, and people are rebelling against this. We must acknowledge this disfigurement of democracy at the heart of Europe, and it is our responsibility to reject this idea of TINA – There Is No Alternative. It should not be allowed to dominate the public discourse and drive our fellow citizens to desperation and nationalism.
Participating in the Pulse of Europe demos should not only inspire some of us, but also move towards bringing back those who feel alienated and marginalised: those, often rightfully, opposing the EU. If they are offered a choice between the current EU or no EU at all, who can blame them for their choice? Currently, the acritical waving of the flag drives them further away from us. The problem is the rise of nationalism and isolationism, and our efforts should focus on combating them. As those who have had it good under the EU, we need to recognise the fear, frustration and anger of those who have not.
DiEM25 as The Alternative
Like the Pulse of Europe, we at the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM25) think that the European dream is too beautiful to be surrendered to destructive nationalists, but it is also too big to be contained by the structures of the European Council and European Commission, whose hands are tied by national interests and “business as usual”. We need to save Europe from its enemies, this much is true, but to do so we must first save it from itself.
It is the failure of the current establishment that is giving nationalists the space to spew their hatred.
Power does not give up power and nothing was ever given that was not demanded. We need to make the EU answerable to its citizens, not only to governments. Ensure that the idea of European Citizenship is more than a symbol on our passports, but an identity through which we are ensured our human rights, welfare, and equality, and project that we are all a part of. That is what a healthy and democratic EU will look like. We must dare to believe it. We must dare to demand it.
As the EU grows in power and influence, domestically and internationally, we, the citizens, must hold it to the same high standard that we hold any form of power in our societies. That standard is democracy.
Now, before it is too late, is the time for Democracy in Europe! Join us in creating a progressive alliance for it!