Magid Magid is a British Green MEP and former mayor of Sheffield.
When I was a mere Brussels-bubble baby, I published in these pages my honest first impressions. It got me a lot of attention from inside and beyond the European Parliament’s airtight glass panels and steel doors.
Much to the chagrin of some — but to the profound appreciation of many others — I was critical of the culture and conventions of the European Union, its legislators and leading officials, even as a proud Europhile and advocate for the United Kingdom to remain in the EU.
Now, as Britain officially leaves the bloc at the end of the month, I’m reminded of all that I’ve learned in my seven months shuttling between Brussels and Strasbourg. It pains me to see Britain relegated to continuing her contradictory conversation with herself about herself in a room with ever fewer friends in it. I may be on the way out, but I want to urge those remaining in the EU: Use this as a wake-up call, and stop burying your heads in the sand.
My belief in the EU project — its historic necessity, present value and unrealized potential — has not wavered in the slightest in these past seven months. Rather, it has strengthened day by day.
But while I praise the fundamental, foundational goals of the EU, I don’t accept that its present setup is conducive to achieving them.
I have come to appreciate the virtues of the slow-burning, temperate politics that characterizes life between Brussels and Strasbourg — especially in light of the global wildfire-like spread of hard-right, extreme nationalist politics as peddled by the likes of U.S. President Donald Trump, and indeed the U.K.’s own pound-shop variety.
Progressive change in the European Union may be incremental at best, but it is anchored around a stable, non-flammable core — and that is often a source of immense relief.
But while I praise the fundamental, foundational goals of the EU, I don’t accept that its present setup is conducive to achieving them. For a truly cohesive, thriving Europe, for a Union true to its purpose, for a Continent at the forefront of just, sustainable human progress, there must be a more equitable distribution of prosperity between its member countries, and an even-handed sharing of burdens of all kinds.
I once stated that many of the EU’s leading voices were avoiding tough choices and conversations. I’ve seen nothing to convince me otherwise — on the contrary, my experiences have only served to cement my opinion as fact.
While I was highlighting the devastation of child refugees drowning in the Mediterranean in the Strasbourg hemicycle, the vice president chairing the discussion thought it apt to attack me for wearing a baseball cap. Weeks later, when I condemned Johnson’s infamous history of bigotry and disaster-capitalist agenda, calling him as a racist, a liar, a charlatan and a national disgrace — all on very good grounds — I was served a suspension warning by European Parliament President David Sassoli for what he said was “offensive language.”
I refused to make a fuss out of either exchange in the moment. But honestly, the time for minced words, mild manners and tedious tinkering over a system doomed to fail, is over. I call on the EU to make real changes.
Firstly, I am writing to the College of Commissioners to demand real action against the overwhelming tide of anti-Muslim racism flowing from hateful headlines and bigoted politicians’ words and seeping into the pores of our society. As the U.K. leaves and the number of Muslim-identifying MEPs shrinks to an even smaller number, the time for change is now.
Secondly, the EU institutions must at the very least deliver on their pledge to resettle 50,000 migrants — a number that represents just 1.6 percent of global need. If people are drowning in the Mediterranean, don’t stand by and watch from this gilded tower. Refugees and migrants are the manifestation of human perseverance and belief that there can be a better life. Treat them as you would like to be treated.
Lastly, the EU must wake up to the harsh reality that the world before us is all too literally up in flames. Whether we like it or not, whether we wish to escape it or brainlessly deny the science behind it, we are the first generation armed with the knowledge that human action is propelling life on our planet toward the brink of collapse. This leaves us with the opportunity and obligation to decide on the continuing habitability of our planet for all species. While a European Green Deal holds tremendous hope and promise, it does not go nearly far enough.
I’m grateful for my time in Brussels. I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve given all I had to give.
Over to you, Europe.