Europe goes to the polls today in an election that has been described by some as irrelevant, by others essential. In truth it seems like it could be both: willing one’s interest in the remote politics of Europe takes some doing but on closer inspection, the European parliament is an institution in which you have to have the right representation.
But were it not for some vague notion of democratic responsibility rather than an overt knowledge of what’s at stake, many – I would wager – would fail to vote at all. So why should we? First let’s understand why the idea of Europe seems more pressing at this election than before.
The impact of the global recession of 2007 to 2008 saw access to jobs and money shrink and social wellbeing morph into the longer-term knock-on tale of shifting politics. There has been a much-documented rise of the right wing across European member states’ local governments, mayoralties and Parliamentary representation in Brussels; in short, the politics of the right have, in part, been taken up by the disillusioned.
The European model is subsequently an easy target for the disaffected. Centred away from home in Brussels, it’s a beast of bureaucracy, a homogenous mask hiding multiple nations; a symbol of both single and multifarious identities. It is that question of identity that shrouds much of the pro-nationalist debate that has grown to prominence in recent years.
The free movement of goods, services, money and – crucially – people within the EU as set out by the 1957 Treaty of Rome and then Maastricht in 1993, seems a set of ideals imposed on nations. The EU is commonly painted by its detractors as a model of politics done to people, rather than a set of regulations and legislation that we take part in and often benefit from.
These lofty ideals of the single market are not an absolute one-size-fits-all mechanism for prosperity but while the UK remains part of Europe – and I personally hope we do – I would rather have a proportionately represented seat at the bargaining table when it comes to the chewing over of unglamorous and important legislation. No, I’m not overly interested in the laws that underpin tax, the environment, competition and farming, nor care for the intricacies of how high finance moves between member states. But I’d rather my chosen representative is fighting that corner so I don’t have to.
In a sea of political cynicism, I will perhaps naively ride the wave of belief in the power of the vote. Abstaining here is not a viable option. Brussels and its bureaucracy may indeed be remote – but take a few minutes to read up on your MEP candidates and cast your vote, because the issues they deal with matter.
Aled John is a producer for Monocle 24.