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Brexit – crisis and challenge

Kevin O’Higgins SJ is a lecturer and founder member of JUST, the Jesuit University Support and Training initiative that assists young people from the west Dublin and Ballymun area (where he lives) access third level education. He spent many years in Paraguay working with local communities and lecturing in philosophy. In this blogpost below he describes the Brexit as ‘a mistake, a tragedy and an abomination.’ He hopes the decision to leave the EU can be reversed but says it will take more than pro-Brexit voters having second thoughts. The bloated and bureaucratic EU must rediscover its soul and return to its founding principles.

Brexit- Crisis and Challenge for EU

I am a long-standing Europhile. I have lived for both long and short periods in six European countries. I love, especially, the cultural richness and diversity. As a young student, I availed of every opportunity to visit ‘the Continent’, with its amazing abundance of museums, theatres, centres of learning, stylish architecture and exotic food. Now, as a veteran teacher, I delight in seeing how greatly relaxed travel restrictions and vastly cheaper air fares allow my own students to expand their geographical and intellectual horizons through the encounter with other peoples and cultures, in Europe and beyond.

However, I detest the EU in its present form! I regard it as bloated, bureaucratic, remote, pompous, often undemocratic and unaccountable. I believe it is far too dominated by the interests and needs of its larger member States, especially Germany.

Even in the hours following the announcement that Brexit had won the day, EU leaders managed to give the impression that the only national leaders who really counted were in Germany, France and other large countries. The original six ‘EEC’ members were even invited to a special summit. Other member States – especially smaller ones like Ireland – appeared to count for little, in spite of Ireland probably being the country most profoundly impacted by the UK decision. Watching all of this, I could only think: ‘My goodness, they still don’t get it!’

Having said all that, in the absence of any credible and viable alternative to the EU, I would work to reform it from within. Given the horrors of European history, both remote and recent (centuries of internal conflict, barbaric colonialism, repeated attempts at genocide, the current appalling treatment of migrants, etc.) I think it is grossly irresponsible, and even dangerous, to simply opt out and walk away.

At a moment in history when many countries are faced with a resurgence of nationalistic extremism and intolerance, I believe it is more important than ever to preserve mechanisms, however fragile and imperfect, that promote mutual understanding and cooperation. That is why I think Brexit is a mistake, a tragedy and an abomination! The potential consequences for Ireland hardly bear thinking about.

I sincerely hope this decision can and will be reversed, eventually. For that to happen, it will take a lot more than pro-Brexit voters in the UK having second thoughts. It is now absolutely imperative that the EU itself should rediscover its own soul and return to first principles. Alarm bells are ringing, and the more powerful players may be unwilling or unable to hear them. Smaller member States like Ireland could play a key role in getting the EU project back on the right track. Sometimes, even usually, it is far easier to see things clearly from the periphery rather than the centre.

Kevin O’Higgins SJ