Playing with ostriches

I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to visit the European institutions, Ypres and surrounding area. Our party contained both people who voted to remain and to leave in the recent referendum, Brexit. How infantile, yet effective a banner.

There is a lot to be said for getting your message right and I’m mindful of how easy it is to be swept up in the EU messages. The area in central Brussels is very imposing with big boulevards and marble-dressed buildings. They reminded me a little of Stalinist architecture in Moscow. Built to last but will they? Ask Ozymandias.

It was disappointing not to observe the Parliament in session. Many of us thought so.  However, the meetings with MEPs present and the presentations by Commission staff were excellent, though placed in a helpful context we could understand by additional sessions we had at Solidar and with eulobby tours. The latter gave us a more rounded picture of the workings of the EU institutions and the pressures individuals come under. The EU people we met almost seemed surprised that many were increasingly disenchanted with what they perceive to be heavy handed treatment of some member states, particularly Greece, even if it has to take a great deal of responsibility for its own problems. The solution imposed there was draconian. ‘How will a women just about to take her pension be affected by these austerity cuts?’ Badly, there has to be more than one way to tackle these problems.

One speaker at the Commission asked us what was the main reason for the EU. My hand shot up, ‘Peace!’ He shook his head and smiled. ‘Ah, that was at the beginning, then. Now, it is more about economic growth and prosperity.’ For whom? We are all for prosperity but it feels it needs spreading around a bit more fairly. I know, ask our UK Government about their plans too. It made me wonder if, inside the ‘Brussels Bubble’, a phrase we heard repeatedly (what does it mean?), are people forgetting that peace underpins all our prosperity and needs to be worked still to keep it?

I still naively hope that Britain will find a way to remain ‘BritIn’. But then I am a group person. I enjoy working together with different people towards a common purpose, a bit like our study group, in fact. More can be achieved this way than by acting singly. I feel the EU has contributed so much to developments in the UK in infrastructure, culture and education.  I am from Liverpool! Only yesterday, I walked past a new technology building nearing completion close to the city centre, funded by ERDF. I smiled at the yellow stars on the blue flag, the long goodbye. But I also find it helpful, taking time to reflect on my own by walking, writing and telling stories. Can I ask you what is your story now to the people of Britain (and Europe?) as we’re leaving? Do you hear the stories coming from the UK?

I don’t envy you your task. Listening and communication are key and most problems arise when these falter or fail. I wish you well in balancing the competing demands of finance and the economic sectors with social and environmental support and safeguards. Don’t forget about us, the people. We need to feel part of, included, our voice heard or else we turn away and, in the end, everything turns to dust.

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