My Mother and Europe
My mother passed away last week. She was a kind of revolutionary from other times. Personal Secretary of Andreas Papandreou and member of the Greek communist party from the early '50s and later, member of Syriza, she brought us with her to the haven of Belgium, fleeing the colonels' dictatorship in Greece in the early '70s.
Born in 1936, she was a human rights activist and a feminist since she was a teenager. She campaigned against the colonel's junta, she has been detained at the Averoff prison as a political prisoner in 1968 and was tortured by the Papadopoulos regime.
She campaigned for women's rights and from her position as Executive Secretary of the Hellenic Community of Brussels in the '80s and the '90s she contributed to the shinning of the Greek culture in the capital of Europe.
She was very pro-European and a federalist. She believed in the United States of Europe, was open to collaboration with other political families and has never been in favour of micropolitics.
She was from a generation that strongly believed that the unification of Europe and the European Union would make an end to war and guarantee eternal peace. Like no other, she was aware of the horrific consequences of war.
Eleni grew up in Athens in the '40s, during the German occupation and Greek civil war in 1945-1949. She witnessed the start of the civil war in the Greek capital in December 1944, as part of the combats which lasted for 33 days took place in front of her parent's house in the Kolonaki neighbourhood.
The civil war in Greece resulted from a highly polarised struggle between left and right ideologies. Sounds familiar?
During the last years of her life, she was very disappointed with the crisis in Greece and the way it has been managed by the EU. The rise of Euroscepticism and nationalism. In her farewell letter which was opened after her death, she wrote: "When you see your dreams collapse, desperation, fear and all the rest, can only become a creative power. Otherwise, you lose. This is what life has taught me".
Europe has been undergoing a process of slow unification for more than 60 years now and is better off for it: there is less conflict between European countries than at any time in history, and their collective power makes Europe strong.
But there is more. The European Union has brought freedom, justice, sustainable democracy and helps protect our basic political, social and economic rights. It supported the extraordinary transformation of former dictatorships in Europe, which now are members of the EU family.
South European countries with a democratic deficit and dictatorships like Spain, Greece and Portugal are now examples of democracy. People with different political opinions in these countries are not more in jail or in exile anymore.
The European Union also embraced the former communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe. After decades living under communist regimes, they were taken under the secured umbrella of the Union.
Now all citizens living in the EU, have the same rights in all other member states as they do in their country of origin. Europeans can travel, study, reside and work in the other member states. They can even vote in certain elections in other EU countries.
The EU has achieved extraordinary results in the fields of education, environment, research and innovation. For example, the Union improved consumer protection, banned growth hormones and other harmful food additives, and introduced Europe-wide patent protection.
However, in other fields like the creation of jobs, public diplomacy and illegal immigration - one of the major public's concern - it failed to fulfil citizens expectations and give answers with one united voice.
The EU and its member states failed also in communicating Europe. They were unsuccessful in communicating sufficiently the constructive advantages of integration, cohesion and co-operation. The advantages of common policies in the fields of finance, taxation, migration, defence, trade and foreign affairs.
Europe is missing a real communication strategy. To establish a strong relationship with the people, effective communication practices must be put in place. A powerful connection with the citizens cannot be installed without a well thought out communication strategy and effective tools, practices and analysis. Government policies rarely succeed when communication fails.
The generation of my mother shared the same desire for the pacification of Europe, not via a balance of power, as was the case after the Vienna Congress in 1815, but via the reconciliation and the integration of European nations. The generation of my mother wanted a strong, united and prosperous Europe.
I strongly believe that the European Union allow us to preserve our welfare-state model of society, our liberal democracies and the diversity of our national cultures. By joining forces and working together we can find workable solutions to many issues. A politically unified Europe is the best remedy against the rising of alt-right, intolerance and racism.
Even after losing Britain, the EU remains one of the main players on the planet despite its very slow decision process. If we want to play an important role and have a kind of influence on the international political agenda and the solution of global problems, we must keep our forces together. Abandoning European unification would be equal to quitting the world stage for good.