Restoring a Europe built on values for its youth

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Jacques Delors, pictured in 2010. [European Parliament / Flickr]

EXCLUSIVE / The Brexit vote has highlighted the need to restore the values that founded Europe in order to combat the rise of nationalism, populism and anti-European sentiment, writes Jacques Delors.

By Jacques Delors, former President of the European Commission and Honorary Citizen of Europe, in support of the statement “common-statement-a-new-europe-for-people-planet-and-prosperity-for-all” signed by 177 organisations.

The result of the British referendum vote on the EU is only the latest in a series of serious crises in Europe in recent years. It is a warning signal that shows the need to hold an essential debate about how we can restore the values that founded Europe and even strengthen those values to combat the rise of nationalism, populism and anti-European sentiment.

It is important to have the wellbeing of our planet and its people as the basis for our vision of Europe, rather than the stock market and purely nominal economic growth. This idea is actually nothing new: after the first Rio summit in 1992, we had already begun to build a Europe based on the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental.

Since 1995, this vision has gradually been eroded to be replaced by an increasingly narrow focus on economic growth. As a result, Europe’s achievements as a world leader in environmental standards, the fight against climate change, health and consumer protection, eradication of poverty and promotion of human rights are no longer regarded as successes to celebrate but rather as red tape that must be eliminated in the interest of short-term economic gain.

Leaders gathering on 16 September in Bratislava to discuss the future of Europe must come forward with a new positive vision of Europe to re-engage with European citizens and regain their trust. This is what a group of 177 civil society organisations and trade unions, under the impulse of WWF, CONCORD, ETUC and the European Youth Forum, call for.

I am joining this call as I share their hope. For Europe to find new lease of life, careful attention should be paid to the younger generation, who in the UK and in the rest of Europe, share these values and feel European but no longer wish to engage as they have lost faith in traditional politics. It is this generation who more than any other can bring about a renewal of Europe and who must engage in this fight for a better world.

The debate on the EU’s future has now begun and we must ensure that Europe embraces transformational change, through the global agenda for sustainable development and the Paris climate agreement. A decisive change in policy direction is needed to translate these international commitments into action, in which people, planet, prosperity for all, and peace are at the forefront. It is up to Europe as the world’s largest economic player to lead the way with a bold and decisive overarching sustainable development implementation strategy that will guide all of its internal and external action for the coming decades.

In this time of crisis for European identity, it is essential for the EU to show that it is not paralysed but ready to act as a leading force in the many challenges we face: the fight against climate change, increasing inequality, the need to ensure sustainable and inclusive development, promoting human rights and ensuring that nobody is left behind.

We urge everyone, especially Europe’s youth, not to be spectators in the days and months ahead. We must be active participants in building a collective response to the challenges facing our continent and our world.

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