Eurosceptics vs Europhiles

During the summer I left Brussels to visit friends and families in Europe. The summer is the time of the year I get reminded that I live and work in a ‘bubble’, far away from people in Europe.

When being asked what I work on, I found myself struggling to explain in a relatable way what I do in Brussels. I also found it challenging to convince my friends why the European Union has an added value, despite the examples I tried to provide of EU-wide legislation and regulations, such as support for victims of violence and protection against discrimination in employment across the EU, and how we can travel without passports within the Union and use our European health card in case we get sick.

Nevertheless I could not answer why national media seems to only focus on what the EU costs and never what it contributes. Instead I had to admit that we are failing in explaining why the European project is important, and in particular why social investment and equality should be high on the political agenda. Even if we as social NGOs provide accurate facts and figures, we are often out-performed by populist political leaders appealing to their constituency with inaccurate information and emotional rhetoric in a way that convinces people more than our rational arguments; a phenomenon that has been excellently described by Daniel Kahneman in his best-seller ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’.

Recent research shows that the EU has waited too long to respond to the claims of those contesting the integration project and has misinterpreted Euroscepticism as only being an issue in a few member states. This neglect also shows a correlation between Euroscepticism, nationalism and anti-immigration. Around one-third of elected representatives in the European Parliament since the election in 2014 identify themselves as Eurosceptic or anti-European. Both the radical left and right parties have increased their representation in the Parliament and Euroscepticism has become persistent and embedded at both national and the supranational level.

Donald Tusk, President of the European Council’s, answer is that ‘we need to feel more proud about our common Europe… about our culture, wealth and the political idea of solidarity’. I believe that first of all we need to explain to people why and what they should feel proud about. It would be ignorant to assume that everyday people know, even more so that they care if it does not affect their everyday lives and struggles.

Laura Shields blogs about the UK and how the pro-EU campaigners need to reclaim and reframe what it means to be British ‘for me and my family, the kind of country I want to live in and what kind of world I want to live in’. In other words, we need to rephrase our work in a way that is relatable and understandable for people living in the EU.

While many Eurosceptic members of the European Parliament use their position to actively promote Euroscepticism at national and local levels, other politicians should use their powers to actively promote the European project at national and local levels. In the same way, we as European civil society can improve our ways of communicating in a more convincing and compelling way. And who better to practice on than our families, our friends and the random people we talk to on the bus or in the store when we are traveling the EU?