The Norwegian Shakespeare Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) wrote in his dramatic poem Peer Gynt about the button molder, who would re-melt and re-make Peer Gynt because he hadnt made optimal use of the assets he had been given, yes, with parallels to the Biblical parable about the Lost Son in Luke 15:11-32.

In many ways, we are all like Peer Gynt, we could all have done better; individuals, states, groups of states and organizations could have done better. The button molder will (probably) give us a new day with new opportunities in future, so we can improve and do what was not done right in the past. Thanks to God, we dont have to be perfect, but we should do as well as we can.

Today, the British people go to the polls to decide whether to stay a member of the European Union (EU) or leave the 28-member organization because the Britons feel EU hasnt been as good as it should have been for all its citizens. Britain became a member of the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973, which later developed to become EU. At that time, the organization was mainly a free trade union, not the broader political, economic and cultural organization that it has become with some hoping, others fearing, that it could turn into a United States of Europe in future.

Many Britons were against EEC/EU as a matter of principle from its very beginning; they saw UK as a world power in its own right, remembering the times when it had colonies around the world, ruling the seas and commanding an empire ‘where the sun never set’. People could not imagine the country being an equal partner with other, mostly smaller European countries even if it would have significant economic and other advantages for UK.

Perhaps it should be added that World War II (1939-1945) was at least partly about leadership in Europe, not only about defeating Nazism. There was a competition between Anglo-American leadership, partly including France, too, and the Germanics. We know how that ended, and today former friends and foes are in the EU, also former Eastern European countries, which were earlier part of the Soviet Union, and have hardly yet developed fully democratic states. Left out of the good community is the rest of the former Soviet republics, and indeed Russia. A few European states have voluntarily opted to stay outside EU, notably Norway, Iceland, and Switzerland; several Balkan states are not yet welcome as members, and also not Turkey (but only a small area of the country is in Europe, perhaps requiring new demarcations between Europe and Asia).

In the debate and election campaign that led up to todays UK referendum, many issues turned into much more than about EU issues; in any case, EU is about more than economic cooperation. To a great extent, it became a debate about immigration and refugee issues, sometimes with xenophobic arguments, including scantily disguised racist overtones. The latter should be understood, but not excused, in the context of a relatively high influx of refugees and other immigrants to the whole of Europe. UK is a particularly popular destination.

In recent years, a few million asylum seekers have crossed the virtual European walls, and the situation is in populist political debate termed ‘immigration crisis’, but that is an exaggeration. Europe has about half a billion people, and can easily accommodate some million immigrants annually. As a matter of fact, Europe needs immigrants due to its aging populations. It already benefits from the newcomers contributions, not withstanding that there are also be some costs related to integration and security. When there are over 65 million displaced people in the world, and over 20 million refugees, Europe has more than a moral duty to welcome a good number.

Tomorrow or the day after, we will know the outcome of UKs EU referendum. It is my prediction that UK will vote stay within EU, with a clear margin. But that would not be the end of the story; it would rather be the beginning, because then UK will take up its many proposals and demands for change in EU, and many other countries would join UK in seeking exemptions and special treatment in various fields. I find it quite natural and even good. The German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, said the same on Deutsche Welle TV a few days ago. Yet, there would obviously be limits to how many separate agreements countries could have, and there must be key minimum denominators for all members, otherwise the organization would become meaningless and powerless. I believe that the debate, and the changes that would follow, would be essential to strengthen EU as well as each states sovereignty. Or, is EU too big to succeed as a democratic organization?

It is my opinion that the introduction of the Euro currency was a mistake. The establishment of a European monetary union was debated since the early 1990s, with strong opposition from UK, which is not a member. Yet, it was decided to introduce it in 1999, with bank notes in circulation from 2002, and a central bank from 2009. But it is possible that several of the 19 members of the Euro zone may want to leave in the coming years, and maybe some new ones joining. On the other hand, the idea for such cooperation existed long before the current EEC/EU was established; as early as in 1929, a common economic and monetary union was discussed in the League of Nations, at a time when many new states had been created after World War I (1914-1918).

In 2012, the European Union was unanimously awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for over six decades [having] contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe. Yet, the prize was also controversial, partly because the EU is a rich mans club, set up mainly for its own prosperity. On top of it, with NATO as its defence organization with America, currently sable rattling vis-à-vis Russia and overstepping its outdated role and function in many fields.

That is probably also EUs main challenge today. How can EU do more internationally, more than giving some development aid, improving free trade (with benefits mostly for itself and America), advocating its own definition of human rights and other ethnocentric standards as universal, restricting free flow of people outside its walls rather than encouraging it, and more? It is true that EU has been good for Europe, at least in a short-term perspective, and for the majority.

In future, EU has to show that it can be good for all in a long-term perspective, for Europe and the wider world. And it should be remembered that Europe must also pay for the sins of its forefathers, for having shaped the world the way it is; Europe and America are to a large extent responsible for many of the current (and future) conflicts and underdevelopments and at the same time, they are claiming moral, political, economic and cultural-religious leadership. The way refugees and immigrants are treated today has become a sad revelation of a ‘house built on moral clay’. The world trade system and its institutions are equally mostly good for the West, and only later, for the rest. On top of it, not only European Union, but even the Unite Nations, belongs to the thinking of the past. No, not all is wrong but it is not always good for all, not within the EU and the West, and indeed not for the rest of the world, especially not for the poor and downtrodden.

When the votes about EU are counted in Briton and we get to know the results tonight or tomorrow, I hope we draw the right lessons irrespective of exit or stay: That EU needs to change, to become better and more democratic for the EU members and the rest of the world, considering too if indeed such a huge organization can actually fulfill its goals at the grassroots.

Remember, Henrik Ibsens button molder is waiting at the next crossroads, and he will ask if we all, and the EU, did as best as we could. If we didnt, we will be re-molded.