Brexit. Marine Le Pen. Geert Wilders. Democratic deficit. Euroskepticism. Euro Stop. Nigel Farage (…gasp…)Yes sure, you’ve seen these hair-rising words all around the media sphere and probably heard them in your groups of friends. According to the media, Europe is dying. Also according to the media, Hillary Clinton was about to win the U.S. elections. Just sayin’. Alright. Fake news in the hood. One recent event that I attended proved us that the EU is not on a highway to hell, but rather on a stairway to heaven.
Two days after the end of the European Youth Convention in Strasbourg (March 9-12), I jumped on a plane and flew to Torremolinos, a beautiful sunny touristic city by the sea in the South of Spain. Some European NGOs were hosting the WoDFEU forum (Work on Democracy and Federalism in Europe), until March 19. This seminar gathered around 50 young people from 12 different EU countries; we had the honor to receive lectures from high-profile speakers such as Enrique Barón Crespo -former President of the EU Parliament- or Cesar Díaz-Carrera -professor of Political Sciences at Universidad Complutense de Madrid.
The most significant outcome of this seminar was a street action we organized in Torremolinos’ city center. We went out in the main streets and remained standing in pairs, holding signs -written in different languages- aiming to raise questions among the passerby: “Can we make a better Europe?“, “Make Europe great again“, “What do you want from the EU?”…Haters gonna hate… But the response was overall positive and heartening. Both tourists and locals stopped by, intrigued by these weird quiet and immobile youngsters. Some stopped to express their support to the European project, willing to push for more solidarity regarding the refugee crisis, or even ask for more unity. Some of course stopped to express their disbelief and skepticism.
Such as this fellow who approached one of us, reacting to a sign, and bluntly saying: “We can’t go out on the street in London anymore, it’s like a battlefield…” “It’s the EU’s fault…“. Or this other person complaining about Brussels being a bureaucratic monster. But do you know that there are more employees and so-called ‘technocrats’ in Hamburg or merely at Paris City Hall, than there are ‘Eurocrats’ at the European Union Headquarters?
Most of our interlocutors agreed with our ideas and values, one lady even affirmed that “la unión hace la fuerza” (‘Union makes strength’). The feedback was surprisingly better from the elderly people. Maybe because “they had to fight to get the level of democracy and rights that we have today” as argues one of the team members. As one of our participants puts it, “to emphasize the joy of cooperation and living abroad was the message we spread during this day“. That was indeed the image we were reflecting. None of the duos had members of the same origins. More than 75% of us went on at least one Erasmus exchange. Europe had brought us here, united in diversity.
The ‘Brexit + Donald Trump’ combo led everyone to think that there would be an unstoppable wave of populism taking over European governments. Austria was the first to stop the wave by electing Alexander Van Der Bellen against the populist candidate Norbert Hofer. Then the wave turned into a pond, with Geert Wilders getting slapped in the face by the results of the Dutch elections. Now all eyes are turned towards France.
The outcome of the French elections -April 23 and May 7, 2017- will shape the future of the European project and the direction it will take. A candidate such as far-right populist Marine Le Pen has the power to take it many steps backwards. A candidate such as centrist Emmanuel Macron has the opportunity to bring a fresh renewal and hopefully to work towards a Federal EU.
I hate polls. Personal feelings aside, let me conclude though this article with a recent poll from CSA-La Croix in France released before the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. 66% of the respondents showed support to the EU and 67% to the Eurozone. Never have I ever felt so much Europe. Time to chug your shot.
Kevin Rousseau: a passionate European activist and student, born French with a Spanish mother. He is also a Modern Languages graduate from University of Strasbourg (France) and University of Southampton (UK), and an International Relations master’s candidate.
Foto: Yogesh Mhatre