What I learned at the “Anything but Brexit” talk in Edinburgh

, by Juuso Järviniemi

What I learned at the “Anything but Brexit” talk in Edinburgh

On November 29, I spoke in the capacity of a TNF Editor-in-Chief at a panel discussion organised by the local JEF branch in Edinburgh, Young European Movement Edinburgh. The topic was “Anything but Brexit”, reflecting a topic which has understandably dominated British discussions on Europe in the past couple of years. A great occasion to talk about things that haven’t made the news in Britain, or in other national-level media!

Besides myself, the panelists at the event were Emilie Bruun Sandbye from Leviathan, the student journal for Politics and International Relations students at the University of Edinburgh, and Jack Caldwell from the Scottish Young Liberals. The discussion covered a broad range of topics, from the anti-disinformation campaigns of the East StratCom Team to EU funding received for local initiatives such as neighbourhood partnerships within quarters of Edinburgh, and to democratic conventions on the future of Europe.

There were new faces in the audience - three people signed up for membership on their phones afterwards without even being asked. A nice evening of ‘EU positivity’, as was intended! Here are five remarks from the event that may be of general interest to Europeans and JEFers in particular.

European federalism is not dead in the UK

One of the audience members participated particularly actively in the discussion, presenting proposals and ideas of his own. He had not been to YEM events before, but the ideas were unmistakable federalist. Especially the idea of a ‘European treasury’ sparked positive discussion, and shared debt between EU member states was considered at some length at the event. The person signed up for YEM at the end of the event.

Even though pro-European groups in the UK are scared of talking about federalism because it might alienate members of the public, among the membership there certainly is a good bunch of people who identify as federalists. The movement may first have to get Britain out of the mess that the country is in at the moment, but in the longer term there is hope for the country of Winston Churchill, at least as far as the young generation is concerned!

Engaging with parties’ local youth wings is a good idea

In Edinburgh, members of local youth wings of parties have agreed to speak at YEM events before, and it was so this time as well. Speaking at a JEF event can be a good opportunity for a local youth figure to present their views, and in the meantime they will, of course, hear federalist perspectives that they can take home to their party branches. Having young speakers at events also makes them more relatable to the audience. Everyone wins!

A small audience can also be an advantage

There were between 15 and 20 people in the room. On the one hand, one would have liked more Edinburgh locals to engage with the fresh perspectives presented in the discussion, but on the other, having a small group present had its advantages as well. Namely, the atmosphere was more relaxed, and the audience could more easily engage in near-direct conversation with the panelists during the event. Moreover, it was logistically significantly easier to take the group to a pub to continue discussions when the number of people was manageable.

Federalist visions capture ordinary pro-Europeans’ imaginations

The perpetual risk with events such as this one is that you’re merely preaching to the converted. However, even if the audience was resolutely pro-European, you can still change their minds. At the talk, it felt as though these pro-Europeans were given useful nudges towards federalism.

As I was speaking about the prospect of transnational lists for European elections, and about the idea of a European constitution legitimised by citizens rather than states, I felt that the audience was curious and positive rather than frightened by the ideas. A federalist future may seem utopian to some, but it’s perceived as a utopia, not a dystopia. That is an excellent starting point, as all that is then needed is faith that the ideas may in fact succeed.

Discussing grand visions is worthwhile, especially when connected with a roadmap to achieving these visions in practice. That kind of discussions can help people sympathizing with the blue and yellow flag to take the green and white one on the side.

Speaking at local-level JEF events is good publicity for the web magazine

A number of people in the audience, especially the newcomers, first heard about The New Federalist thanks to the event. Afterwards, one of the attendees – who had been to some other events earlier in the autumn – asked for more information about writing and translating articles. Taken together, JEF’s web magazines have editors in a good couple dozen cities in Europe. That gives us a good opportunity to have a local presence on the ground. Moreover, the local branches should be more than receptive to speakers from the magazines, so again it’s a win-win situation.

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