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“Such things don’t happen anymore today, we now live in modern times” someone asserted to my late father in 1933, referring to the potential danger the Nazi regime posed. Indeed, people were convinced in 1933 that they lived in modern times, just as we do today. They did not see their world in black and white pictures – as we do now – but in full colour, as it was real.
Those who read the book “La Peste” by Albert Camus will remember how the book ends: “the plague is not dead. It is hiding in the sewers only to surface again at an unexpected moment.” (Or words of this nature, I read the book over thirty years ago. The message remains the same).
We must at all times realise that our “modern” Western culture and civilisation is not something we should take for granted. Nor is it a gift. It is something that we need to work very hard for to keep and to strengthen. This is not something that politicians can do – it is a task for all. Why?
In many ways, the challenges we face today are comparable to the turbulent times the Weimar Republic faced. Indeed, we have a European Union created by visionaries, but which is now tottering as the result of decades of mismanagement, reckless decisions, cowardice and selfishness of irresponsible politicians. We now may wonder if the European Union is still European, and for sure it is hardly a Union. This institute responded late to the Economic crisis, years later than the USA, responded in the way we all had to observe to the Greek crisis, and does not seem to have a response at all to either the crisis in Syria nor the refugee crisis.
This lack of response causes a lack of coherence among the countries, which therefore largely need to fend for themselves. The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees – I believe it will be millions before we’re done – is obviously scary. We see terrorist attacks and witness what happened in Cologne and other cities. We, as citizens, observe this situation that must be qualified as chaotic. We seek answers. This, of course, is the very opportunity that extreme parties have been waiting for. Extreme parties come with simple answers. Reassuring answers – at least for a majority.
The truth is, there are no simple answers. As I wrote before, we simply cannot leave millions of refugees out in the cold, just as we cannot and should not ignore the conflict in Syria. And no matter how deplorable the events in Cologne and elsewhere were and are, we can also not expect that the arrival of hundreds of thousands of foreigners will go without problems. Tough problems.
This is not all. The balance of power in the world is clearly shifting. Without the umbrella of a real European Union even our larger countries have no chance to compete and survive in the world of tomorrow.
What do we need to do, what can we do? First, we must not react to scaremongering. We must not generalise. We must insist on and assert our values such as womens’ rights, gay rights, and all other proud achievements of our Western civilisation. Obviously, we must insist that those newcomers who cannot or will not respect and abide with such values, leave. For sure we must not trust politicians who come up with simple answers.
The answer lies in the European Union. We need to build a strong and coherent European Union. How? Whether we like it or not, this is necessarily a task for politicians. However, for this we need politicians with vision, courage, and popular backing. We need politicians who do not tell us what they believe we wish to hear, but who tell us their vision for a strong, coherent and prosperous European Union. Unfortunately, such politicians seem to have become exceedingly rare.
Maarten van Leeuwen
Group Managing Director
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