Letter: Your vote in the European elections is essential

, by Romain Laugier, Translated by Juuso Järviniemi

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

Letter: Your vote in the European elections is essential

“The EU is useless”, “the European Parliament has never made a difference in my daily life”, “there’s no point in voting”, “our representatives are corrupt”. Really? Originally writing on our French sister edition Le Taurillon, Romain Laugier unpicks these phrases sometimes brandished by young people who defend their choice not to vote. Speaking as one young adult to another, the author calls for his generation to mobilise to vote in the European elections.

Dear young (and less young) readers,

I’m writing to you today with the ambition of convincing you to vote in the European elections this week. I’m speaking to you as one young adult to another, not disrespectfully but directly and unpretentiously. [1]

Previous votes and polls show that one in four young French people will go to the polls to elect their representatives in the European Parliament. One in four! For comparison, those above age 64 are two times more likely than our age group to go vote – and their opinion on your future is generally very different from your aspirations.

Those who decide on the contours of our society in our name, appealing to the virtue they call “experience”, say that we’re thankless. That we’re the “me me me” generation. On the contrary, I believe that young people have never been as altruistic and attentive to the future of our society. The only constant in our life will be uncertainty: digital disruption, climate change, the explosive growth of inequalities, the rise of tensions and authoritarianism, to name but a few.

Today the world is spinning faster, and it’s our foot that is on the gas pedal. A message can be repeated in an instant by millions of others, a small determined group can change politics and behaviours, a single enterprise or invention can change our daily lives at the snap of a finger. We’re the generation of possibility.

What’s the relationship to the European Union? Well, that’s the machine that allows us to live at this speed. To go live, study and work elsewhere. To pay less, and in euros. To have the best navigation system in the world (ahead of the American GPS), and to get married abroad. To forget borders and tear down walls. To avoid another war, too.

I’m not talking about a war in the past, with its trenches and shells, but a war of another kind, more insidious and impalpable: one against our differences and liberties. A war made of restrictions, locks and prohibitions. Because this political union that you’re a part of rests on a foundation of freedoms that you take for granted, but which are threatened.

Like you may also be, I’m furious. I can’t come to terms with seeing and ignoring the sad spectacles of everyday life that leave some of our elders indifferent – the accultured and the accustomed, those who “tried” and then gave up. Refraining from acting, or voting, won’t lead to better results. That’s why I want to debunk, one by one, the slogans sometimes used out of intellectual laziness, often forcefully. If I don’t convince you, at least I deserved to try, and you have had the chance to test your convictions.

“The EU is useless and anti-democratic”

We often say one thing and the opposite about the EU. It’s at the same time useless and omnipotent, dictatorial and incapable of making a decision, ultra-liberal and liberticidal, tentacular and isolated in Brussels. Successive governments have appropriated the EU’s successes and attributed their failures to “the Brussels technocrats”. Like so often, reality is a lot more complex.

The EU rests on the simple idea that European states are better off together, rather than in permanent rivalry. A territory bringing together more than 500 million citizens and consumers is also the appropriate scale for safeguarding our way of life against other global powers and multinational corporations. Travelling on another continent will quickly remind you how the principles that you take for granted are still a rarity: democracy, a ban on death penalty and torture, freedom of religion, freedom of loving who you want to. United, we Europeans have the power to impose the rules that allow us to have weight on these big questions.

To guarantee its relevance, the EU only acts in the fields where the member states (including your home country), have deemed that it brings added value. That’s the case for trade, the common currency, customs and competition policy. On other topics, the EU acts only to complement the member states – for example on the environment, transport, health or on consumer protection. The member states all nominate one European Commissioner who, once given a green light by the MEPs that you elect, will be in charge of leading the actions in each of these fields.

European countries still have a say on every decision taken by the EU. Firstly, the heads of state define their priorities at regular summits. Then, the European Commission proposes rules that are modified and then voted on by European ministers and by the MEPs whom you have elected. The power of ministers and of MEPs is equal, and no rule can be adopted without agreement between these two sides. [2] This means that your ballot is an essential element of decision-making on the European scale. Finally, an independent judicial power, the Court of Justice of the EU, ensures that all the democratic rules are respected.

If you think that the EU isn’t going in the right direction, here’s some good news: everything can change depending on the results at the urns. You can criticise the EU for not doing enough, or for not doing things well, but certainly not for being useless. Every European election allows you to tell if you want more or less Europe, but also to choose its political line.

“The European Parliament has never made a difference in my daily life”

If you’re not interested in the life and in the votes of MEPs, you’re completely sane! But you don’t need to be a politics buff to realise the importance of these representatives in your life. During their previous mandate between 2014 and 2019, the MEPs made a number of decisions that have probably influenced your daily life. Here’s a non-exhaustive list:

  • The adoption of an investment plan for Europe, called the “Juncker Plan” that allowed the European Investment Bank to help €370 billion in public and private investments, to reinforce investment, competitiveness and economic growth in Europe. This sum will probably be doubled for the next five years.
  • Significant measures to fight climate change. The MEPs did this for example through the obligation to reduce CO2 emissions of new cars and vans by 2030, or through the stepping up of objectives in the field of renewable energy to 32% of energy consumption by 2030, and in the field of energy efficiency to an increase of 32.5%.’
  • The end of roaming fees on mobile phones. You now pay the same fee for your calls and text messages everywhere in the European Economic Area, just like at home. [3]
  • The ban on single-use plastics starting from 2021. This brings an end to plastic straws, swabs, plates and cutlery. These products represent more than 70% of the plastic present in the oceans.
  • The reform of copyright rules on the Internet that obliges online platforms to remunerate authors and artists for their content that is shared
  • The reform of posted workers rules, so that a worker posted to another country will now get the same salary as a local worker. This helps to fight against the much-criticised “social dumping”.
  • The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that stops multinational corporations from selling our personal data without our consent, and guarantees us a “right to be forgotten”. These are the strongest protections in the world.
  • Free Interrail passes for 20,000 young people who celebrate their 18th birthday. This allows them to discover European culture and their European neighbours.
  • Votes for trade agreements with Canada, Japan, Singapore and Ecuador, as well as association agreements with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova that include similar elements. These agreements stimulate trade by removing customs fees and harmonising technical rules between partners.

Are there things on the list that don’t please you? Do you think that other initiatives should be added? That’s exactly what these elections are for: making things move! Think of the votes that weren’t passed in the past few years, like the reform of the European asylum system (“Dublin III”) that forces, for lack of a better system, an asylum seeker to make their application in the first European country that they set their foot on. Have a think about the big issues of the next five years that your representatives will have to look into, like the path to carbon neutrality by 2050.

“There’s no point in voting”

The recent past has shown us how much a vote can change the way a country works and the life of its inhabitants. The election of Donald Trump in the USA – won after racist, sexist and homophobic statements made during the campaign – is a living example. In Brazil, the President Jair Bolsonaro is threatening to leave the Paris Agreement on climate and to accelerate the pace of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.

On our continent, the Brexit referendum is putting the UK on a very different, more lonely path than staying in the EU. The different political groups that vie for election will have significant influence over the lives of Europeans, for example through their vote on the nomination of the President of the European Commission who will succeed Jean-Claude Juncker. That’s why it’s so important to get informed and, when the day comes, vote for the vision of a society that we want to come true.

“My vote won’t decide an election”

It’s clear – and desirable! – that a single vote won’t decide the fate of an election. But it’s paradoxically because an election will take place with or without your vote that you have the moral duty to participate. If you don’t do it, you let others – those who live in your country, or share a nationality with you, but not necessarily your ideas – decide the rules that you will need to follow. All the stones are necessary for constructing a building, and not bringing yours is the best way to get nothing built.

Maybe you’re of the opinion that your impact would be bigger through a different action than voting? After all, today one single person is enough to change what’s possible. Think of Greta Thunberg, the Swedish 16-year-old who protested alone against climate inaction outside the Swedish Parliament in August 2018. In March 2019, she was joined by more than a million young people.

But in reality, these civic actions need to be added to voting. Who can do something complicated can also do something simple: no action precludes also expressing yourself at the ballots. Voting is necessary because individual action has no effect except if it’s supported by a collective. No fundraiser succeeds without the individuals who contribute.

Briefly, action makes a difference. In the end, there are few actions as easy to take in terms of time, cost and energy as voting, compared to the potential impact that it has. Your vote may not solve all the problems of the modern world but it can make a contribution.

“Our representatives are corrupt and self-interested, I don’t recognise myself in any of them”

I can’t and don’t want to deny that our representatives hold great responsibility for the general distrust towards our political institutions. The European political arena is not exempt from scandals, as was demonstrated by judicial enquiries into MEPs from the French Front National, France Insoumise and MoDem parties who were suspected of spending European public money on hiring people to work for the parties elsewhere, namely in France. But generalisation is a poor ally, and politicians with integrity aren’t rare. Moreover, you or any voter cannot run away from your responsibility that comes with the choice of voting for a list composed of honest candidates. This is also for denying the right to represent you from those who don’t deserve to.

There is choice! The perfect candidate doesn’t exist, and no individual can embody our values and convictions more faithfully than we can ourselves. However, voting doesn’t mean pledging allegiance to a candidate or engaging yourself to support their actions – to the contrary! Everyone has their role, and yours is to choose a direction, a kind of politics that you think our society should move towards. The role of the representative is to faithfully defend this ideal. So I invite you to inform yourself and choose an option from among the many that will be presented to you.

To you who took the time to read till the end of this article: I’m not asking you to like and share. Just to go vote. Take your responsibilities in one hand, thirty minutes of your time in another, and go to the polling station. It’s once every five years, and it really is worth the effort.

Footnotes

[1Translator’s note: Instead of the polite “vous”, the author of the original French text addresses the reader informally as “tu”.

[2Translator’s note: The Parliament is still weaker than the Council of Ministers in certain fields, but for the most part they decide on laws as equals.

[3Translator’s note: The EU rules also removed fees on mobile data use within the EEA.

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