The Guest Blog

Nobody can make it out here alone

“Lying, thinking
Last night
How to find my soul a home…..
…..I came up with one thing
And I don’t believe I am wrong
That nobody
But nobody
Can make it out here alone”

These lyrical words by Maya Angelou, American poet and civil-rights activist, reveal in their simplicity the fundamental truth that makes humans what we are, a species that needs relationships, cooperation and togetherness. Ecology teaches us that nobody can make it alone, from individual human beings to entire countries.

The Brexit vote is a trauma for all of us who believe in this, who believe in Europe, who believe in its record and its potential to make life better for all European citizens. Engaged at BirdLife on a daily basis with EU politicians and policy on behalf of nature in Europe, we know firsthand the positive force the EU has been. Its legislation and funding have been the driving force for a generation and more saving our continent’s biodiversity and cleaning up our environment. EU legislation underpins many success stories and fundamental progress. But Brexit, a cloud of doubt hangs over our efforts.

The UK referendum campaigns were both criticized for relying more on rhetoric than fact. But we must admit the “Leave” campaign did strike a chord with half the British people. A majority clearly feel disaffected by “the system” and identify the EU as an incarnation of what they fear: whether that is globalization, unchecked immigration, or economic hardship, all changes that affect their daily lives but are too complex to understand and too remote to influence.

Brexit risks knocking the whole continent off course, with unforeseen consequences.

And yet, the EU is needed more than ever. History teaches us the dangers of insularity, with the risk that politicians and demagogues could splinter our society, pitting group against group. The formidable societal and environmental challenges of our time cannot be addressed, in our view, by small fragmented nation states competing with each other in a less than zero sum game.

The EU has played an important role in expanding human rights throughout the continent, ensuring equality, freedom of movement, better health and food standards, and, seemingly forgotten, decades and decades of peace between nations; nations which sadly have all too often clashed violently in the past with the attendant enormous loss of life and devastation.

Nowhere is this record of accomplishment and further potential more evident than in our efforts to protect and enhance nature. Nature and birds know no borders and make environment the most visible arena in which trans-national cooperation is vital. We need a strong EU to drive the ecological transition of our economy and society, but an EU that is fundamentally reformed and brought closer to its citizens:

• Both EU and national governments must urgently re-gain their democratic legitimacy by showing that they serve the interests of their citizens and not those of a few opaque elites.
• The majority of citizens across the continent want a transition in our policy-making and problem solving to one in which protection of nature and ecological sustainability are incorporated as essential pillars. Decision makers and citizens across the continent must keep working together protecting our common natural capital.
• Ideological deregulation has failed. We do not need to cut red-tape. We need good laws that are properly enforced and implemented to protect and empower citizens.
• When governments, including the EU, keep ignoring facts and evidence they discredit fact based policy making and legitimize dangerous and unpredictable anti-rational forces. We need a concerted effort to put facts and evidence back at the center of policy making.
• On the other hand we cannot any more hide societal choices behind technocratic arguments. Policies have winners and losers and these must be addressed openly. Open debate, honest, fact-based and transparent, is the bedrock of a healthy democracy.
• Finally, people need to be treated with respect and listened to when they cast their vote, or express themselves whether it is in a national vote or an EU consultation.

After Brexit, the EU cannot just muddle along and hope to survive. We need a fundamental societal debate about what sort of Europe we want. We are firmly convinced that there is a majority across the Europe and in the UK, regardless of their views on the EU and its institutions, in favour of a society based on fairness and solidarity, and on giving the next generation a healthy and peaceful planet to live and prosper on. But the debate must be embraced and the argument won through discussion and evidence worthy of the 500+ million citizens of our democracies, worthy of the principles for which men and women have fought and died, and which are the foundation of this unique and exceptional approach to a sustainable future of peace and well-being across our continent.

At BirdLife Europe we are absolutely determined to bring our experience, our voices, our large membership across the continent and our profound enthusiasm into the debate, and help build a better future for all living species, together.

The BirdLife Europe and Central Asia Team

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