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My 350 on BREXIT: the state of the union

As narcissistic children of relativism and post-modernism, what else can we resort to but the faith in our own dreams, our own narratives?

Ten years ago I moved to Europe, with little idea of what Europe was. Certain only that I would no longer be fully African, but I wouldn’t be German and I wouldn’t be British either. I made good use of most of the so-called ‘common market freedoms’, but I never felt any great sense of accomplishment, community or aspiration just because of them. Europe always had to be more. What, I could not tell.

Little did we know how bad things could become. Narratives of financial demise were compounded by those of climate catastrophe and either migrated or homebred terrorism. Calls to end ‘financial terrorism’ have only ended in banks becoming larger and a negotiation of a stock exchange merger (basically the biggest banking merger of all times). Calls to invest in infrastructure and to control euro-wide sovereign debt have ended in the catch-22 of an ever-expansive market securities programme. Fear of German hegemony has crowned Merkel person of the year and the OXI celebrations have ended in Tspiras calling Juncker a good friend of Europe and a good friend of Greece’.  All the while, the big ‘known unknown’, the crisis of legitimacy and the crisis of democracy has given way to right wing populisms, calls for the end of Europe, and a Brexit.

Can we still change things if only we want to and provided we accept the institutions as they stand? I used to worry about this party or that, rally for this party or that, lay my faith in intelligent leadership and read the autobiographies of politicians that I thought had an ounce of honour to sell. I can only speak for myself and not for my Facebook colleagues who seem to have replaced every ounce of news and democratic discourse with comedy shows, but over the last couple of years I have basically become disillusioned by all political parties in equal amounts (though for very different reasons).

As narcissistic children of relativism and post-modernism, what else can we resort to but the faith in our own dreams, our own narratives? There are heartfelt stories of my friends’ Erasmus’ friendships and adorable tales of sensible youth’s holding town hall meetings. But pretty events alone do not a union make and ‘town halls’ do not transport 19th century notions of democracy into the future. The stories of great nations are not those of my generation. But nor is the overcoming of world wars. So far, the only story we have written is that of a generation being driven blindly to the abyss, with no certainty of a path of return and only the dire prospects of separation.

Let us try to make sense of a Union that needs to become a federation, of capital markets that need sensible regulation, of migrants that need to be met at our borders, not as refugees or potential terrorists, but as people. And of a Europe Union that cannot be certain of itself and its institutions, but only of its service to its people. Let us say no to the dissolution of Schengen and the continuation of austerity. Let us dream up all the possibilities and opportunities necessary for us to reclaim common sense, empathy and agency. Let us create what we need be human in the most European sense of the word.

In the aftermath of the historic British vote to leave the EU, openDemocracy is asking for our readers' thoughts on Brexit and what needs to happen next in 350 words. We've had an extraordinary response and you can read them all here.

About the author

Juliane Mendelsohn grew up in South Africa before moving to Berlin, where she lectures at the Free University on banking regulation and European law. She is a former finalist of the World Debating Championship.

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