Ahead of the European elections, it appears there are very few people who have fallen entirely for the extreme rhetoric of nationalistsby Jan Eichhorn / May 13, 2019 / Leave a comment
Over the past few months, Europeans have been looking at the United Kingdom with bewilderment as it tries to decide its Brexit path. But while people on the continent may rightly be puzzled, there is no room for arrogant feelings of superiority—because many of the issues dredged up by the UK debate also affect the rest of Europe. Indeed, the elections have been repeatedly described as a watershed moment and decisive in determining the future of the European project.
With just weeks to go until the European Parliament elections, learning from the mistakes made in London may help to prevent similarly disastrous outcomes elsewhere.
The UK government’s approach to the EU referendum campaign under David Cameron was divisive. It portrayed those in favour of remaining in the EU as sensible, rational actors, while those who wanted to leave as foolish oafs for not understanding the dire economic consequences.
Cameron summarised his point just weeks before the vote in June 2016: “Don’t throw away your job, don’t throw away your children’s futures, don’t throw away the strength and future of our country on the basis of misleading statistics.”
But as we now know, the reasons voters opted for Brexit were in reality far-ranging. The economy was important, but so were cultural questions of identity.
Despite these nuances, Cameron’s successor, Theresa May, continued to present voters as polarised and divided. According to May, many Remainers were part of a cosmopolitan, global elite that was totally disconnected from the rest of the country: “if you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere.”
As in Britain, so in Europe…?
It is here we see remarkable similarities with the way the 2019 European Parliament elections are being framed.
On the one hand, French President Emmanuel Macron champions deeper European integration. On the other, Hungarian strongman Viktor Orbán stresses the importance of the nation-state and challenges the values underlying the EU.
The visions of Macron and Orbán are opposites—but we should not make the same mistake UK politicians did of assuming that voters are simply divided into supporters of an open, internationalist Europe and a closed one in which member states are solely inward-looking.
A mix of “open” and “closed”
Findings from our unique “Voices on Values” project show…