Italy’s ‘score’ is announced on a big screen in front of us and a roar of applause and whooping erupts from the Italians in the crowd, followed by a cacophony of chinking glasses. The Italians are bizarrely celebrating their voting turnout at the election party.
In the Brussels euro bubble the European elections are barely distinguishable from Eurovision or the World Cup. All three are a blur of big screens and partying, followed by dashed expectations and national shame, especially if you’re a British trainee.
In the run up to the elections those working in the European institutions – generally people fairly committed to the European project – tend to view ‘Britishness’ as a personal attack on their work and values. They demand detailed explanations of why UKIP have so much support and why the party exists at all with such frequency you’d think we were all members of Farage’s campaign team. And the attack is dual pronged. Being under 25 also leaves us prey to dressing-downs about youth apathy or worse yet, desperate attempts to ‘engage’ us through any ‘young and hip’ means possible.
The fervour for all things young and hip peaked with the MEP rap battle. An alarming spectacle of MEPs twerking and shouting slurs at each other on stage. The rap battle succeeded in pulling in a crowd of politically apathetic hooligans; young trainees from the European intuitions. Perhaps the organisers hoped that through Facebook and Twitter we would spread the word ‘to the streets’.
As a tactic for increasing youth turnout MEPs rapping is akin to tackling voter turnout in Germany with lederhosen: a crude stereotype that isn’t relevant or appealing to half its audience and one that has absolutely nothing to do with voting or politics. It’s just mildly insulting and embarrassing all round.
Just after this three school friends of mine came to visit. They were on a lads’ tour of Belgium and Germany with a mission to drink as much beer as possible. The morning of their departure I leave them in a coffee shop to recover and head to the Parliament, where a fairly senior member of staff has planned a parliamentary role-play activity for the trainees in our directorate. Three people short of the required number, he asks if we know anyone who could come at the last minute. A few minutes later the boys, their assortment of bags, and a strong stench of alcohol/ vomit enter the European Parliament looking bemused. My boss looks more than bemused; his face suggests I’ve just dragged three tramps off the street.
He asks the boys if they are interested in the European Parliament. ‘That’s where you work, right?’ one appeals to me for help.
‘No, that’s the European Commission…’ my boss replies.
‘Are they different?’
The boys all have degrees; they are by no means stupid or uneducated. They are normal; Britain’s ‘apathetic youth’ who have never been taught anything about the European institutions, or given any reason to care about the Europe Union, let alone any concrete reasons to vote in the European elections. Almost everything they hear about the EU comes from Nigel Farage’s soapbox.
After UKIP won 27.5% of the votes, the English among us pinned our hopes on the World Cup to redeem our national pride. Now those hopes are dashed too.
The Huffington Post | 23rd June 2014 http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/susannah-savage/european-commission_b_5515376.html