Monday 13 February saw former President of the European Parliament, Pat Cox, visit the Hist, where he was presented with the Gold Medal for Outstanding Contribution to Discourse. From the insightful nature of the speech he gave to society members, he certainly seemed a worthy recipient of this award.
Pat Cox is a long-time veteran of EU politics and so had much to say on the direction and spirit of the Union, as well as that of Western politics as a whole. While Cox is an undoubtedly strong supporter of the economic and practical benefits of EU membership, he noted that these elements are usually given a fair share of attention. Instead, he wanted to emphasise the positive social and cultural aspects of European co-operation.
Cox began by discussing his early days in the European Parliament, where he worked side by side with two rather unique colleagues, one a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp, and the other a German soldier of World War Two. He was forcibly struck by the seemingly ordinary nature of their day-to-day collaboration, as though such a feat was unremarkable, but when it comes to considering the alternative, the cooperation of such diverse people in service of a shared vision of prosperity and unity is undoubtedly an achievement to be celebrated. So often, a cynical focus is placed on the egoistic goals of various EU-member governments, and while a critical media is crucial to democracy as we know it, it is important to remember that the vast majority of people working within the Union do so without hidden motives or underhand dealing. Rather, they have a desire to do their best for the sake of a community they truly believe in.
On a darker note, the former President also reminded us to guards our freedoms; to hold tightly to our faith in democracy, and the freedoms of press and judiciary it requires, and never to lose our respect for science and knowledge. As we watch the narrative of alternative facts play out in the US, Cox urged us to scrutinise ourselves just as closely, guarding against attacks on truth on our own soil, more subtle as they may be.
In arguing for its advantages, by no means did Cox sugar-coat the threats the EU currently faces, from aggressive nationalism to the rift created by the financial crisis. He did, however, emphasise his genuine hope for its continued existence.
The former President does not believe the Union has failed nor is it doomed. Instead, he considers the fight for Europe to be continuous, taking place on the ground, region by region, as the battle for hearts and minds rages on. In closing, Cox advised that should your interest lie in the future of the EU, whether you support that future or not, then your eyes should be on the upcoming French and German elections.