A New Vision for Europe: Arbury Road

As I write from my office in Valencia, I am reflecting on the past years and the path which has led me and Eoin Murray to co-fund Arbury Road. It feels like yesterday when we were still two students in Cambridge sharing an apartment in Arbury Road and discussing European politics until late in the night with a diverse group of friends from different countries and backgrounds. Cambridge is a beautiful and really strange place. A place which is difficult to understand from the outside and where many contradictions of modern society are exposed with rare clarity. It is an incubator for the elite, where social inequality is not only evident but preserved and in some cases even encouraged. As a student, you will often dress smart and attend fancy events where you will be served by people of your same age. You will develop a sense of personal confidence that often can degenerate into entitlement. At the same time, you are exposed to an amazing community of international students, which in my case was life-changing. I have met some of my best friends, people outside of the ordinary who saw the world very differently from me. They helped me to develop my own vision and cosmopolitan European identity.

Arbury Road was the embodiment of all these contradictions and their synthesis. Like the rest of Cambridge, the area was inhabited by many students. This was particularly appealing to those like me who had a tight budget because it was cheaper than the rest of Cambridge. The reason is that it connects Central Cambridge with Arbury, one of its most deprived districts. In Arbury people live in difficult conditions, struggling with poverty and dealing with a high crime rate. Only a few kilometres down Arbury Road, in Cambridge, many sons and daughters of the European and global elites live luxurious lives, full of stimulating events and under the protection of the “Cambridge Bubble”. Me and Eoin felt the weight of the possibilities we were granted and the need to fight such inequality, and to put the education and the set of knowledge and skills that we acquired to the service of everyone.

Of course, the contradiction of giving the name of a UK district to a pan-European newspaper while Britain is leaving the EU is evident. And it is not casual. We think that Brexit was the demonstration of the failure of the EU liberal project. Brexit was a moment of reckoning, the demonstration of the incompetence of the arrogant European elites, who were not able to understand the deep discomfort and detachment that the European project was creating in many strata of the population. The areas that voted in favour of Brexit were exactly those areas of the country, such as Arbury, which the UK and the EU governments forgot. The people of these areas saw their living conditions decrease in the past 20 years, and the only aspect of the European reality that they experienced directly was greater competition in the work-place.

The Brexiters, as well as the other sovereignist parties, did listen to these people. Differently from the liberal elites they did not ignore their suffering, but gave them some concrete expectations and proposed wrong solutions: the return to national sovereignty, which in their rhetoric coincided with a return to a welfare state, the suppression or limitation of immigration, the recovery of national identity as the foundational stone for a renewed sense of community.

These are wrong answers, based on deceptive postulates. These people are probably those who are going to suffer the most from the disruption caused by Brexit, a disruption which will be even worsened now by the coronavirus crisis. The solution proposed by politicians such as Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson in the UK and by other reactionary leaders such as Le Pen, Salvini and Orban across Europe is not only counterproductive but irresponsible and immoral. In our globalised competitive world, we need a strong Europe to deal with big international players such as the US, China, India, Russia not only from the economic stand-point but also politically. Europe, with all its defects, remains nowadays the best model of a social state where the welfare of the population, of the entire population, is considered a fundamental duty of the States. And at the same time, the European Union guarantees its citizens freedom and democratic representation and has guaranteed one of the longest periods of peace in European history. Yet, a lot needs to change and remainers, and the European elites, were not able to provide answers to the problem and worries of the population.

We, at Arbury Road, believe that the European Union and its political party system all should make a deep and serious self-critique and understand the roots of the problem. We believe that the European project needs to be re-launched starting from the idea of solidarity between different strata of the population.

But even more, we believe that having a decent standard of living is everyone’s right. We believe that the project of a political and social Europe, as it came out of World War II, was betrayed by part of the European political elites and groups of interest. It was substituted with an economic project based on free-market rules and neoliberal ideas. We believe that this goes against many many great documents such as the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights and its European equivalent which states that ‘everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international cooperation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality’.

We believe in the need to go back to prioritising a political project over the economic one and attending to the needs of society as a whole and not of its richer strata only. We believe that Europe, as it is right now, is going to fail and is not fully democratic. The power of major states and groups of interest is crushing people already in difficult social and financial positions instead of helping them.

We believe, however, that the only answer is Europe. But a different Europe. A Europe which is not at the service of the most powerful, but on the side of the weakest. A Europe which has the courage and vision to go over national and regional differences and focus on our common cultural heritage, developing a political, economic and social model which can generate hope in the entire world. A model which takes into account the needs of the population as a whole, and which does that in harmony with nature and in an eco-sustainable way. A model which responds to the environmental crisis, and treats our planet as a precious gift to pass to future generations and not as an instrument to exploit. A model which promotes innovation and research, but with the idea of serving the general interest and not private gain.

We believe, finally, that cooperation and mutual understanding and respect are the only values which give sense to human existence, and that personal affirmation is only useful if it coincides with the welfare of everyone. In the magazine, we will develop these ideas and support a coherent model.

But Arbury Road is not only about Europe. It also wants to contribute to a general redefinition of values and re-discussion of the priorities of our society. It wants to give voice to those people who do not share the optimistic belief in the future of the liberal elites and try to understand them and to develop a common answer to their problems, rather than blame them. As such we will explore many different themes, and we will interview different people. We will have a series of articles and podcasts on austerity and circular economy, on the environmental crisis and the green new deal, on migration and the different dimensions of citizenship. But we will also have series analysing the concrete experiences of the citizens, trying to understand their day-to-day problems and to find solutions.

In conclusion, Arbury Road wants to fight against the indifference that surrounds us nowadays. Arbury Road wants to put the expertise of its members and collaborators acquired during their studies and working experiences to the service of the general good and to the definition of a new system of values which can dictate a new political agenda. Arbury Road wants to campaign widely and dictate this new agenda for Europe, to win back the heart of its citizens.

We are aware that the project is ambitious and we ask for the collaboration of all of you in helping us to develop these ideas. As John Lennon famously said ‘A dream you dream alone is only a dream, while a dream you dream together is reality’. At Arbury road, we are ready to put our passion and enthusiasm at the service of this dream, and we will not stop fighting. Because we think that this fight is not only the moral thing to do but also necessary to add meaning to our lives. And we hope you will join us.