The EU Needs UWC in 2019

18th August, 2018

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n a direct vote on 23-26 May 2019, citizens in 27 EU member states will elect 705 MEPs to form the new House. This article looks at the big risks of the upcoming election and what UWC students can do to support the European project. 
Why it matters
There are numerous reasons why the upcoming election of the European Parliament may be the most important vote Europe will face this decade. The following is but very general context of current events.
The European Parliament is the directly elected parliamentary institution of the EU. Together with the Council of the European Union (the Council) and the European Commission, it exercises the legislative function of the EU. The parliament consists, like a national parliament, of parties who make up a governing majority and an opposition. Since 2014, the majority has been led by Jean-Claude Juncker and his centrist alliance consisting of the European People’s Party (EPP), the Party of European Socialists (PES) and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrates in Europe (ALDE). However, this centrist alliance has seen a popularity decline recently. Indeed, according to a recent Eurobarometer surveyt
hough Europeans say they appreciate the EU more than ever, they appreciate the Continent’s traditional centrist parties less than ever.
Particularly the Party of European Socialists (PES) is in trouble. The party is expecting poor showings in nearly all the big EU countries including Germany, France, Italy and Poland mean dozens of Socialist seats are at risk, and with them Parliament’s pro-EU majority. 
Behind the scenes there have been plans of possible centrist pro-EU replacements in the political center to rejuvenate the Juncker commission. Emmanuel Macron’s is planning to create a European En Marche party, but it has so far failed to materialize.
While centrist parties experience declining popularity, Eurosceptics are gaining more power, including within centrist groups. Hoping to gain popularity at home, nationalist movements and eurosceptic MEPs point to the EU’s failure in restoring confidence in the organization after the financial crisis and its handling of refugees from Syria and North Africa as examples of why the European Project does more harm than good. Harshly anti-EU rhetoric is now a regular feature in national government commentary about the EU, and has footholds in four European political groups: the European People’s Party (via Hungary’s illiberal Fidesz party), the European Conservatives and Reformists (Poland’s illiberal Law and Justice party), Europe of Freedom and Democracy (Italy’s populist 5Star and League parties), and Europe of Nations and Freedoms (Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front). Plenty of individual far-left MEPs also have doubts about the EU.
Low voter turnouts at previous elections has also hit the pro-EU politicians in Brussels hard. There has been a tendency of European elections to become complicated, barely-connected collection of national votes, with rock-bottom turnout, especially low levels of youth voters. Together, the European Parliament and European Commission are planning to spend more than €30 million on get-out-the-vote advertising and support, aimed in particular at young people and those with soft support for the EU. This is, however, far from the resources needed to meaningfully impact voter turnout across the continent.
With the decline of popularity of the current commission, the advancement of Eurosceptic nationalist movements and consistently low voter turnouts, many believe support for the European project to find itself at a crossroads in May 2019.
In 2017, this paper published an editorial, We Can Have A Greater Impact, which outlined certain challenges UWC needed to confront in the 21st century for the movement to remain a force for the ideals put forth by Kurt Hahn. We argued that UWC need always oppose racial injustice and nationalism as they stand in opposition to our globalist ethos of uniting people from all background on the basis of their shared humanity. The EU project has proven the biggest and most successful cross-national peace project on European soil in history. It has through economic integration become an anomaly of peace on a continent that spent many hundred years raging war. It is therefore vital that UWC students on European campuses engage in the upcoming election by mobilizing support for pro-European parties on both sides of the spectrum. And if the outcome of Eurosceptic success will be less dramatic, say that rise of populism and nationalism will lead only to transformation and not disintegration, it remains important to combat voter apathy and the right-wing populist surge with a Continent-wide democratic conversation.

What can UWC students do?
Only half of Europe’s adult population say they are interested in the election, according to the new Eurobarometer survey. That’s similar to the surveys conducted prior to the 2014 European Parliament election, in which turnout dropped for the seventh time in a row to less than 43 percentIn Slovakia just 13 percent voted.
For UWC students, the method to impact the upcoming election therefore seems fairly straight-forward. At UWC Maastricht students need only to get on the streets and spark a European interest in a city with such rich European history. Indeed, some of the most effective ways of increasing voter turnout have been proven to be repeated personal contact, social pressure and creating well-informed voters, all of which can be encouraged by UWC students engagement in their surrounding communities. UWC students should find this opportunity of having political impact difficult to waste. There are also many European organizations at local universities to collaborate with. 

The EU’s own campaign consists of #ThisTimeI’mVoting, where you can sign up for news relevant to the elections as well as information on how to vote and how to get involved. Additionally, if you are over 18 and an EU national you can vote in the country you currently live (where your UWC is located), but you need to express your intention to do so and be put on the electoral roll in that country. Find out the specifics here.
You do not need to look far for students willing to take on this task with you either. Grassroots action is an aspect of student life that can be found at all of the UWC campuses. It is often the moments where our mission shines the brightest, as it did when UWC students marched in Maastricht to support Haroon Rezaie and Afghan refugees fearing deportation in December 2017. Towards 2019, we need to point this strength towards supporting the European Project. 

Need for Grassroots Action
The need for pro-European grassroots action grows with the arrival of Steve Bannon in Europe. Known as the “brains behind Trump’s success in the U.S presidential election”, Bannon has already outlined his first advice to far-right European parties, that is to wear racist badge “like a medal.”

This year, Bannon founded an organization called the Movement which, according to Bannon himself in an interview with the Daily Beast, aims to provide policy, polling, and strategic support for far-right parties across the continent in the runup to the May 2019 European Parliament elections. The goal is to turn the EU legislature, historically a consensus-minded body, into a battleground that the far right can use to undermine the coherence of the entire European project.

Steve Bannon, the former chief strategist for U.S. President Donald Trump, speaks at an event hosted by the weekly right-wing Swiss magazine Die Weltwoche on March 6, 2018 in Zurich, Switzerland. Adrian Bretscher/Getty Images

Fortunately for Europe, Bannon’s movement is meeting opposition from the very wing it is trying to support. The leader of the German far-right party Alternativ für Deutschland (AfD) Alexander Gauland said about Bannons movement “I do not see any great opportunities for cooperation. We’re not in America.” Additionally, Jérôme Rivière, a member of France’s far-right National Rally said “Bannon is American and has no place in a European political party.”
This seems to pour cold water over Bannons plan, but it would be naïve to think that his Movement will not play to the right-wing parties advantage. Bannon and his ideology of hatred has been devastating to American politics, a liberal Europe needs to fend it off in May. With the Eurosceptics receiving reinforcements from across the Atlantic, pro-European politicians need support as well. Hopefully such support can be found at UWC.