Baby D’Hondt fear the reaper, the ‘Euros’ are back in town. Having lived in Spain, and now Portugal, since early September, I felt that we should know what young Europeans have to say in such crucial and uncertain times. I’ve asked European friends from Bordeaux and Budapest, Lisbon and Lübeck what they think on the eve of these elections and, yes, Brexit is mentioned.
What is your opinion on Britain leaving the European Union?
For French student Janelle, from Bordeaux: ‘This union provides mobility for students and workers alike and I think it’s slightly egotistical to try to enjoy the European system without contributing anything to its survival.’ While it seems, to Claudia, our Spanish participant, ‘a rash, visceral and stupid decision’. Along with our Hungarian participant (anonymous), she agrees that the decision was based mainly on emotion and a ‘longing for a glorious past’.
Britain, we all agreed, has been let down by its politicians and its leaders. David Cameron, seen through the eyes of the Hungarians, made ‘quite a bad decision’ and has received ‘a large amount of criticism’ for allowing the Leave campaign’s ringleaders to promote ‘childish’ and ‘wanton’ fantasies.
How have the referendum and the ongoing political negotiations between Britain and the EU been covered in your country?
Daniel, a student at the University of Lisbon, has seen ‘daily’ Brexit media coverage in which the close relationship between Portugal and the EU figures. He said ‘we follow Brexit closely to understand developing complexities’ even though ‘we know that the relationship between Portugal and Britain won’t completely disappear.’
Both Hungarian and German interviewees think that the media could have been more detailed and balanced in their coverage. ‘Half-truths in the German media are not based on lies rather on the consequences of demand’ says Joanna, a politics student in Düsseldorf. My Hungarian contributor compares the problems that Brexit has caused in Britain to those in Hungary: ‘while the left-wing media introduced the whole Brexit negotiations as a failure of the British government, the right wing press presented Brexit as an example of Brussel’s misguided political concepts.’
What do you think of this year’s upcoming European elections? Are you worried about populism in your country?
In a country shaking off the hangover from a general election last month, Claudia replied: ‘European elections aren’t something that the Spanish pay attention to, rather a process in which you vote for the party you support at the time without paying any attention to the impact that it could have in Europe.’
In Spain, a country with a dark history of fascism but no substantial far-right in the democratic era, the success of the anti-immigration, anti-feminist party Vox in Andalucian elections last yearhave finally added the country to a long list of those affected hugely by populists.
‘Vox aren’t explicitly Eurosceptic so their presence in Europe doesn’t particularly bother me. What I’m concerned about is that we have local, regional and general elections this year and I hope we don’t end up with with a populist and racist programme,’ Claudia added.
In Hungary, there’s the strange predicament of actually having the populists at the wheel: ‘the problem is that the Hungarian left – which we could say doesn’t even really exist at the moment- is that it doesn’t have any proper response to Orban’s harsh and aggressive communication.’
While Felix (Germany) believes that populism ‘will lead to a situation where a stable Commission is impossible’, he says that those in powerful positions have a responsibility to unite pro-EU forces and really make a case for the union.
What do you think of the ‘European project’? What benefits/ disadvantages has it brought to your country?
Portugal was one of the hardest hit countries during the Eurozone crisis and the bailout measures led to a good deal of Euroscepticism. Yet, confusingly, it is one of the least Eurosceptic countries at the ballot box and it will not return any far-right candidates in 2019. Daniel (Lisbon) cites economic stability as something that Europe has brought to Portugal along with a strengthening of Portugal’s global influence.
Janelle (Bordeaux) mentions the exploitation of foreign labour and precariousness in the European labour market in general, particularly in wealthier countries such as France, given the vast economic differences that existed between East and West when the expansion happened in 2004. All in all, many of the participants interviewed replied saying that, other than the visible benefits (Erasmus, mobility, interrail), it is hard to know which European policies have had which effects on the ground in respective countries, let alone what the policies even are or how the institutions are run.
FRANCE: Janelle Connil
SPAIN: Claudia Carrasco Sánchez
PORTUGAL: Daniel Teodosio
GERMANY: Felix Holst
GERMANY/POLAND: Joanna Kaufhold