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Finger pointing and missed opportunities in Europe

Credit: Abd allah Foteih

Greg Bianchi
Greg Bianchi

SO THE RESULTS are in and the finger pointing has already begun. David Cameron has said that these results show the British population is thoroughly ‘disillusioned’ with the European Union. Nigel Farage, the guffawing leader of UKIP claims to have caused a ‘political earthquake’ and established the party as the third force in British politics.

If this is the case it is a worrying development for all political parties – the Conservatives now have a genuine challenger on their right and traditional left votes are being won by a strong anti-EU party which wants the UK to leave the European Union.

Across Europe the pattern was largely the same. Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France also topped its domestic poll with 25 per cent of the vote. While Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party failed to perform as well as predicted in the Netherlands other Eurosceptic parties in Greece, Hungary and Denmark performed well.

Irritating neighbour

But who’s really to blame? The European Union certainly must take some of the blame for the failure to explain its relevance to people across Europe. However, national institutions need to take stock of what’s happened here and must seriously rethink their strategies on Europe, not in favour of Euroscepticism, but in favour of better education about both national and European politics.

This doesn’t mean to suggest that voters are stupid or acted purely out of spite towards the EU. When we talk about education we need greater civic understanding about what politics actually does for us and how these decisions are incredibly important. In the UK there is still an emphasis in education on Britain’s place in the world as a former super-power with a special relationship across the West.

In effect, Europe is an irritating neighbour which historically has brought us nothing but grief. The only time this is challenged is either when students take History as a further education module, either at college or university. Fundamentally, people only learn more about Britain’s place in the world if they choose to do so.

Embarrassment

Furthermore, teaching young people about what different political parties stand for and something as simple as the voting system to Parliament shouldn’t be confined to the textbooks of further education. This is something that needs to change throughout society, starting at the grass-roots.

Despite the strong showing for Eurosceptic parties, it must be remembered that they aren’t a homogenous group who will form a strong grouping in the European Parliament – they differ both in ideology, some being anti-Europe and others being openly racist, and in strategy – Le Pen wants to destroy the EU from the inside while Farage wants to simply withdraw the UK from the EU. Furthermore as this evidence from ampp3d shows, more people voted for pro-EU parties than Eurosceptic parties in the UK on Friday.

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However there’s no getting away from it. This is an embarrassment for the European Union, but it is a bigger embarrassment for national politicians who have failed to inform people about its importance and instead have pushed them to the extremes. Until this is changed at the grass-roots opportunities will continue to be missed.

Words: Greg Bianchi

Photo credit: Abd allah Foteih

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