The moment when the last ballots cast were counted and revealed that the “Leave” camp in the British referendum had won the day is still a vivid recollection. Not only because few had dared to actually consider the direct institutional, political, economic and sentimental repercussions of this divide.

In an ironic twist of mood, recent events show that even the most prominent Brexiters were caught unaware by the sheer size of the turmoil that awaits them. The stark reality of Great Britain leaving the European Union is vivid because, on the one hand, I can not imagine European history and culture without the contribution of the United Kingdom and, on the other hand, because the future of all our societies remains one which – I strongly believe – can only be built together.

It is nevertheless tragic that a political move which had more to deal with internal party strife and economic arguments became what we had always feared it will become: an excuse for scapegoating the immigrants as the cause of all our distress and misery. This happens while it is obvious that the economic models of austerity and unhampered neoliberalism were the ones which had led many Europeans and many British citizens down this path of misery and despair.

It is truly saddening that after a painstaking process of negotiation which listened to the British government’s demands and concerns, all the endeavors to work out a compromise, with severe costs for the Eastern European members of the Union especially, were ignored by the “Leave” campaign. Instead of focusing on the new status the UK had just negotiated with the EU, both sides, on numerous occasions, seemed to compete in highlighting the fear and the suffering the opposing side would bring about. I am also saddened by the fact that this campaign was the scene of incredible expressions of populism, xenophobia and racism, on a scale not seen since the “dark ages” of the interwar period.

It is clear, for almost all informed observers, that Britain would find it very hard to prosper outside the EU.

The future prospects seem, at first glance, bleak for all the protagonists. It is clear, for almost all informed observers, that Britain would find it very hard to prosper outside the EU. The negotiations on withdrawal will be undoubtedly a painstaking mixture of diplomatic struggle, economic acumen and dogged determination on all sides, and the two years interval many people have alluded to seems more like a very optimistic timeframe.

In the meantime, I cannot ignore the fact that there are millions of European citizens whose lives have been thrown into turmoil. I am very disappointed by the coward and deceitful reactions of the Brexit leaders. There are millions of European citizens of all nations working and contributing to the prosperity of the United Kingdom, whose future is mired under clouds of uncertainty. There are numerous Romanians among them.

In my position, as a Member of the European Parliament, as a social-democrat and as a citizen of the European Union, I will strive to ensure that the rights of these people, who bear no fault for a radically incensed campaign, will be observed in any form of political and institutional arrangement pending the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.

Not to blindly plead for more or for less Europe, but we have an opportunity to build policies and institutions which are not only transparent, but also efficient.

At the same time, I believe that in spite of the dark days we have witnessed, there are still reasons to hope and to look forward to the future – if we all understand this lesson. The story of the European project has not always been one of victories, achievements and progress. There have been setbacks. There have always been crises, and each time the European Project has emerged stronger and with a renewed sense of its own mission. The shock of the first withdrawal from the European Union is undoubtedly a strong one. It is probably comparable to France’s withdrawal from NATO’s command structure at the height of the Cold War.

But the present days are also an opportunity. Not to blindly plead for more or for less Europe, but we have an opportunity to build policies and institutions which are not only transparent, but also efficient. We have an opportunity to build policies and institutions capable of convincing all European citizens that the European Project delivers on their expectations and hopes.

The European identity can not be built through endless words, and European integration can not be achieved by wishful thinking, treaties on paper and pompous declarations.

This is the chance for all EU member states to reconsider the priorities behind their policies. This is the best opportunity for EU institutions to understand that people see them as too opaque, too detached from their daily struggle. This is the time for the political class – national and European – to acknowledge its failure and start building real solutions for people’s real problems.

The European identity can not be built through endless words, and European integration can not be achieved by wishful thinking, treaties on paper and pompous declarations. What really needs to be done is to look at the real message the people in the UK have sent through their vote – and this is a message about inequality and lack of opportunity affecting large segments of the British population.

The same inequality and lack of opportunity are felt all across the EU, and also among EU members. A nurse, a construction worker or a student in Romania or Poland do not feel they have access to the same opportunities as their counterparts in France or the United Kingdom; but, as the results of the referendum vote showed us, a citizen of Yorkshire also feels less advantaged than one from London. And yet, one of the purposes of the European Union is encouraging solidarity and economic cohesion all across its territory, achieving lasting improvement in the economy and quality of life for everybody. This is what needs to be done in the future and I believe projects encouraging a two-speed European Union will only further hurt our common project.