“Why bother about the European elections?” was the title of a recent conference addressing 'civil society'held at the Europe House in Westminster, London. An otherwise soporific debate was enlivened by the colourful contributions of two London MEPs, Jean Lambert and Gerard Batten, of the Green and UKIP parties respectively, whose contesting views on the purpose and future of the European Union drew the sorts of parameters which will shape the debate up to and beyond the forthcoming European Parliament elections in May 2014.
A recent article by Giulio Carini and Marley Morris talks about the different ways in which EU supporters and eurosceptics are framing this debate about whether we should want to belong to Europe. For Carini and Morris, the frame is vitally important. It does not elaborate on or inform people about how the EU works or whether, for example, ‘co-decision’ is beneficial - but it does deal in the moral narratives we tell ourselves about the EU, and this is what drives our voting behaviour.
They argue that eurosceptics are doing rather well at the moment by dismissing the entire idea of the EU as “hopeless romanticism” gone wrong – “naive idealism”. Pro-EU arguments tend to fall into the trap of either a) arguing about the minute details of the EU while ignoring the “robust big picture” argument that the eurosceptics use, or b) trying to recommend the EU on grounds of the friendship between nations in a way which falls straight into the “romantic” trap set for them by those eurosceptics. Instead, pro-Europeans need to find a persuasive empowering narrative of their own.
We caught up with Jean Lambert and Gerard Batten after the event to hear their thoughts in more detail. Both seemed to agree that the eurosceptics in the UK were winning the argument, although differed in their reasons for this. For Lambert it was because there was a general misunderstanding of how the EU functions in the UK, combined with a “euro-hostile” media that has its own vested interests, while for Batten this was explained by the “general common sense” of the British people.
Lambert believes that the EU is becoming more democratic, while Batten is sure that democracy could never work without a common national identity: ergo, the EU is doomed to fail as a democratic organisation.
Both MEPs also discuss the challenge of representing a constituency of eight million citizens at the EU level, their personal goals for the 2014 elections and how they feel the British media covers both themselves as MEPs and the EU in general.
Both were frank and unguarded in their views, and categorically opposed to the other’s position, and yet what they had in common, apart from a rather rare commitment to politics as both acknowledged, was an effect that Can Europe make it? has long been alive to. That is, the sheer divide between the European citizen and their representatives in the European Parliament.
Jean was not convinced that anyone, including her constituents, would ever fully appreciate not only the work she did, but the impact of that work. Gerard, for his part, has no interest at all in his constituents as European citizens. Indeed, as he pithily explained – he had become an MEP in order to make European MEPs redundant. In neither case could you say that representation works to involve people in determining their own European futures.
So why should they ‘bother about the European elections’? See what you think and why don’t you let us know?! Here on Can Europe make it? we feel we ought to make a head start. We declare ourselves open for the 2014 European election debate.
For our interview with Jean Lambert, click here: http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/alex-sakalis-tristan-sechrest-jean-lambert/interview-with-jean-lambert-mep
For our interview with Gerard Batten, click here: http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/alex-sakalis-tristan-sechrest-gerard-batten/interview-with-gerard-batten-mep