The European Quarter, BrusselsWILLIAM MURPHY/FLICKR

On 23rd May, the UK will elect its 73 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) in an election no one wanted to fight. For those who voted Leave, because it represents the weakness of a government which has capitulated to the EU. For MEPs on the continent, who have lost the seats which have been reallocated to the UK, because it raises a serious risk of jeopardizing the institution as a whole. While pro-EU parties have already dubbed this election a “soft referendum”, anti-EU ones face the challenge of both attempting to win the election and of trying to delegitimize it, as Rees-Mogg’s recent tweet, calling for the UK to be “as difficult as possible” if “stuck” in the EU, shows. Yet, with the prospect of Brexit becoming more uncertain by the day, with the Tories breaking down and with the likes of UKIP and the Brexit Party surging, it is important for progressive forces to fight this election with one goal: to stop the UK from sending a nationalistic, chauvinistic and xenophobic delegation to Brussels.

The EU faces its biggest crisis since its creation, and this election is the most important one it has faced in decades. It is facing the exit of a Member State for the first time in its history. Populism, largely a result of its response to the financial and refugee crises, has taken over a large part of the electorate, with far-right parties set to significantly increase their parliamentary representation. Its democratic deficit has been met with apathy, best exemplified by the 42% overall turnout in the 2014 election, which was as low as 13% in Slovakia.

Yet this does not mean the Union is dead. Following the 2016 referendum, predictions about its future were dire. Tensions, it was thought, would arise between Member States. The UK would get the upper hand during the negotiations, and other Member States would follow – starting with France, where Le Pen loomed in the background. Three years later, the opposite has happened. While the EU has not solved its many crises, its attitude towards Ireland shows it to be more united than ever – in stark contrast to a UK deep in a constitutional crisis with no clear way out.

“On 23rd May, voters face two options: they can either join the far right’s tantrum or seize this opportunity to work towards a better Union”

A lot has been written about the nature of democracy, and about how it cannot be frozen at a single moment in June 2016, but is a continuous process of learning and adapting to a changing reality. Precisely for this reason, this election should be seen as more than a “soft” referendum. It should be fought on a positive note by those of us who oppose Brexit – be that EU citizens, those who chose Remain in 2016 or those who have, since then, exercised their democratic right to change their mind. We need to show why Europe matters, why it is a project worth fighting for and why this election should be the starting point for a new approach to the UK’s relationship with the EU, with or without Brexit.

On 23rd May, voters face two options: they can either join the far right’s tantrum or seize this opportunity to work towards a better Union. Let us challenge the narrative of the likes of Farage by putting forward a positive case for the EU: one that sees beyond the single market and its infamous ‘Brussels elite’. The EU has secured 70 years of peace across the continent. It is the home of Erasmus+, which has allowed millions of young Europeans to study abroad, learn new languages and access new cultures. It allows 500 million citizens to live, work and travel in 28 countries. It has financed the development of poorer regions through its Cohesion Fund or its Solidarity Fund. It protects workers’ rights, human rights and the rule of law, and is a pioneer in the existential fight against climate change. More importantly, it is a social and cultural union: one which, rather than seeking division, aims to bring people closer together, ensuring they lead free and fulfilling lives and uniting them in their diversity.


Mountain View

Young people should make their voices heard in the Brexit debate

Marcel Decombis, Jean Monnet’s chief of staff, once spoke of the European project as follows: “[w]ithout ceasing to look to their own lands with love and pride, [citizens] will become in mind Europeans, (…) ready to complete and consolidate the work of their fathers before them, to bring into being a united and thriving Europe.” The EU is by no means perfect and needs deep institutional reform. Yet we should not allow this to drive us into apathy. In this upcoming election, it is our duty, as young European citizens, to have our say in the future of the Union. Let us ensure the far right fails. Let us ensure the UK elects MEPs who stand for an open Europe: one that is tolerant, progressive, feminist and Green. With Brexit looming, this might be our final chance.

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