From Berlin: A message to our friends in Great Britain and Northern Ireland
We are deeply saddened here in Germany to hear of the violent death of your Member of Parliament Jo Cox. It grieves our hearts to learn only now and under these dolorous conditions what a wonderful person she was and what a great loss her departure is for your country and for all of us in Europe. We express our deep condolences to her husband, family, friends and in fact to all of you people in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.
In writing today, we wish to respond especially to the most virtuous message which her husband, Mr Brendan Cox, has addressed to all of us. Yes, we indeed wish to unite with you in fighting the hatred that killed her. Having myself, in a debate two days ago and from pro-European viewpoint, pleaded for Britain’s departure from the European Union, Jo’s martyrdom has profoundly changed my attitude. Yes, Mr Brendan Cox, let us lay aside all disagreements about EU policies and about other values! Our common struggle against hatred must now take precedence over all other considerations. If only for this, we must stay together in the European Union.
I wish today all people in Britain to take note of the overwhelming wish of the German people to remain united. To be precise, the polls here show that about four fifths of the Germans would deeply regret your departure. Our newspapers and other media are full of appeals to you re-calling the contributions your country has made to the culture and the democracy of Europe, from the Magna Carta to the miniskirt, mindful also of the British bravery in the World Wars of the last century, of Britain’s fight against Hitler.
We owe you much to this day for your part in liberating us from that terrible totalitarian regime and for later defending our freedom, of which we remain especially mindful here in Berlin. Not unaware that our feelings are not always and fully reciprocated in all quarters of British society, I am glad to say that nevertheless these German attitudes are an expression of a true and virtuous friendship in which we feel committed to you not for what we expect from Britain in terms of favours and advantages, but for what you stand for and for who you are.
When in my writings and speeches I had until now pleaded for Britain’s departure, the reasons lay in the great divergences on Europe’s mission and on fundamental values which for many years now have made an even greater integration impossible. And which, rebus sic stantibus in British politics, would have rendered the fundamental reforms which we feel to be necessary, impossible for many years yet to come.
Many of you in Britain, I trust, will agree with us here that wealth alone for many people is no longer a sufficient reason for the European project. It is of course regrettable that so many no longer acknowledge the European foundations of our collective and their very own wealth and of our common security. With the massive estrangement from Europe of large sections of the populations in many member countries, many here believe that beyond the economic motives of the Union we need to move forward to a new European alliance governed by the principles of democracy, the rule of law, social justice, security against the risks of vicious financial markets, an effective protection of consumer rights, ethical limits to the manipulation of nature and human life, world trade conditions compatible with the principles of democracy, sustainable and, particularly in a long-term perspective, responsible energy policies, human solidarity with people in need, also in and from other parts of the world.
On many of these important issues British positions have diverged from our own and have UK governments influenced UK policies in a way contrary to our own interests and ideals. The temptation is now great to feel that without Britain it would finally become possible to broach reforms in all these important fields. But as I said at the beginning, Jo Cox’s murder now strikes me as a wake-up call to say, that our common struggle against hatred and violence in our societies, against serious conflicts between our countries, is now of supreme importance and overrides all other conflictual issues and reform considerations.
As Mr Cox refers to both the scourge of hatred and Jo’s spiritual legacy of love, allow me to explain how I understand these terms in a historical and ethical perspective: Is not the core of hatred a perception that others are to blame for all the injustices one suffers, be they objective or subjective, if not self-inflicted? And does not this interpretation of the world then generate an urge to exclude others from one’s lives, to separate oneself from these imaginary sources of the evil, to annihilate them in extremis by acts of violence? Such mislead attitudes of hatred have only too often in history led to campaigns of eradication and become the roots of terrible wars. And I am one writing to you from a country which in its past has so awfully erred in this sense.
Yes indeed, we can only oppose such attitudes of exclusion and division by an even greater commitment to inclusion and togetherness, in short of respecting and loving each other. It is this not merely a sentimentality, but a categorical imperative of reason which should govern our personal relations but no less our actions in our societies and the relations between the peoples.
Old Aristoteles teaches us, in his Nicomachean ethics, that when a friend errs to not give him up as a friend but to engage in a dialogue with him until such a time that he ultimately and irrevocably proves incapable of reform. We find very similar teachings in the Bible and surely all sources of humanism. It is this indeed an essence of our philosophical and ethical heritage, if only here to refer to John Locke’s Epistola de tolerantia. This is the ground on which we stand. And all truly committed to our western values, all claiming to defend them should indeed feel obliged to honour them.
Another legacy of the classical Athenian democracy, as Pericles states it in his funeral oratory, is that political friendship between the free is a necessary precondition for democracy. It commands friendship not only between political allies but especially between political adversaries. If it is true that virtuous friendship is not one in which the friend is a friend only for what favours he can expect from his friend, but that true friendship is a feeling of love for what his friend stands for and for who he is, than this must now be the guideline also for the friendship between our peoples.
In these days so crucial for our future we wish to assure all of you in the United Kingdom that this truly is the feeling which we Germans have in our hearts and minds vis-à-vis the people of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
This is what I wish you to please bear in mind when next Thursday you cast your vote in the forthcoming referendum. To the people until now inclined to vote for an exit of your country from the European Union I wish to appeal to to change your minds in the light of Jo Cox’s political martyrdom.
Do change your minds, as I now cast away my selfish continental motives for a Brexit, and not only so to emotionally honour this courageous woman, in a moment of mourning, but because her tragedy calls us to order, to reason, and obliges us to recognize what beyond divergences and interests are the overriding ethical priorities and commandments.
Let us not simply stay together in the precarious marriage which we have so far maintained in the EU, but let us engage in a new and much deeper alliance. Let us engage in a new European alliance in which we can then argue out our differences and find solutions for them, as it is worthy for the democrats who we are on both sides of the North Sea.
Let us, our dear British friends, remain united in a Europe of democracy, social justice, humanity and in a Europe of true friendship. Let us thus honour the legacy of Jo Cox.
Berlin, 17th of June, 2016
Guy Féaux de la Croix
on behalf of the We-in-Europe Association, Society for cultural exchanges, international understanding and European democracy
The author has worked for German Foreign Service with last postings as Embassy Minister in Athens and finally at the Holy See.