Open letter to our British friends
Maybe it is already over. I could be very late telling you this, but because I cannot believe it, I will shout it out nevertheless, even if it is just a crazy hope: Don’t do it, don’t leave us!
Don’t go away, because more than our common economic and strategic interests, what it would put in danger are some two thousand years of common history, the depth and the logic of an intimate relationship, twenty centuries of interaction and parallel evolution, without any justification, without a single piece of it.
We have, of course, our differences that create disputes and feed illusions. Some say that if we separate the two sides of the Channel, our inland sea, we will multiply our energies and we will open up a realm of possibilities. Some already see Britain regaining its past glory, while others claim that freed from your chains you will find your way back to the old world of greatness. These illusions carry a lot of weight, but if you leave us now, all of us will wake up from these childish dreams amputated.
Let’s remember: a century before the French revolution it was your revolution that reinvented the democracy that we all share, and it did so without going through the Terror. The turning point that the Enlightenment brought us would have been less ground-breaking without your English, Scottish and Irish thinkers and philosophers. England was the birthplace of the industrial revolution that turned Europe into an incarnation of modernity. Shakespeare, your Shakespeare, shaped our imagination and the way we see history, and without Churchill, the statesman whose greatness dominated the last century, it would have been not impossible for the Nazi barbarism to triumph.
We owe you so much that if you turn your back on us, you leave us amputated of a part of ourselves — but what about you, without the continent, separated from us?
Would you then go so far as to deny the Roman and Norman parts of your identity and Christianity as well? Could you underestimate the influence that Germany, France and Italy had on your greatest artists, and the influence of the French revolution and the Encyclopédie on the evolution of your intellectual and political life? Could you forget that the Windsors used to be German, and that Mary Stuart, the Queen of Scots and the mother of an English monarch had been a queen of France? Could you refuse to acknowledge that you have belonged to Europe not since your entry into the Community that became a Union, but since Julius Caesar went on to conquer Brittany in the hope of completing his conquest of Gaul?
We share two thousand years of history, spent in war and in peace, and now you would cut yourself off from your roots, you would amputate us from yourselves and you from your Europeanness at the very moment when our unity and our common institutions finally allow us, every European, you just as well as us, to live without killing each other anymore, at the time when we carry the same passports and we elect the same parliament?
This is not possible. It would be impossible. It would be so foolish that I cannot and I do not want to accept it, and not only because you are part of myself, too, since the time my mother drew her strength from listening to “Radio Londres”.
Beyond the past that had shaped us there is a century that is opening up. We could either lose ourselves in it, or make a new Renaissance out of it. For this new century will be dominated by continent-sized countries: certainly by the United States and China, maybe by India and Brazil, and for sure by Europe, but only if it rises up to its political power and it does not fall apart again.
With the United States and China, the European Union is part of the trio of the world’s economic leaders. The united Europe is an economic superpower, with so many assets that it could exceed the two others. It is not a surprise that Washington and Beijing are striving for Europe’s division. This is the reason why Mr Trump supports a Brexit so eagerly, but you, the British people, what would be your interest in giving him this satisfaction?
Would you be better positioned to negotiate your trade deals with the United States left alone than together with us, together with more than five hundred million Europeans?
The answer is obvious. The answer is in fact in the question, and not only because you would not be able to follow in the wake of the United States or China. You are not Americans, because you, just like us, would not accept that elections are won by money, and you, just like us, refuse to believe that only the rich deserve care. You are not Chinese because the largest and most sophisticated police state is the exact opposite of what Great Britain is. You are neither Americans nor Chinese, but Europeans, because you are engaged to the idea of welfare and redistribution by taxes, and you do not believe that money can buy everything, including the political majority of a country. You are Europeans; would you, in the weakness of isolation, put yourself at the mercy of China and the United States?
It would not be imaginable. It would be inconceivable for you to do so, when you could just continue to contribute to the success of this bastion of freedom, democracy and social protection that is the European Union.
Your values, even more than your interests, would forbid you to make this choice. At this hour, when you and us, us Europeans, must defend the Enlightenment against the obscurantism and the idea of “might makes right”, you must not betray who you are and the universal aspiration for liberty, democracy and the rule of law. We must resist the new extreme right, Messrs Trump and Putin, Erdogan and Xi, Duterte, Orbán and Bolsonaro with the same force that you resisted during the war. So, you cannot leave us.
You will not do so, because for Europe, for you just as well as for us, the question is: to be or not to be.