Some thought’s from the Young European Movement’s 2013 annual conference in Cambridge
The Young European Movement (YEM) rocked up in Cambridge for their annual conference, which Puffles & I pootled along to prior to an annual gathering of some of Puffles’ earliest Twitter followers. (Some updated photos are here)
The context for them is frightening. As far as toxic brands go, the EU is up there with the worst of them (irrespective of why). As far as toxic themes go, party politics is also up there. Combine this with a climate of saturation advertising of consumerism, where do you start if, like the delegates at this gathering, you are in favour of some sort of ‘federal Europe’? Not easy with a political discourse is full of loaded terms.
“Yeah Pooffles, why do you want a technocratic dictatorship full of foreign people from foreign places telling us what to do? Do you want to enslave us?”
Thus illustrating my point – any ‘pro-European’ types will automatically be on the defensive as soon as the debate opens. The more ‘noise’ that comes from the Euro-sceptic press, politicians and commentators (and I separate this from the genuine scrutiny and flaws that they raise), the more time pro-Europeans feel compelled they have to devote to responding to them rather than making the case for whatever vision it is that they have. The pan-European organisation that YEM is part of – JEF has some idea of what a federal Europe may look like.
“OMG – Pooffles wants Napoleon to take over!”
The principle I’m working from (but have not got much further from) is this:
“If your firms are multinational, your regulator needs to be – and that regulator needs to be a strong line of accountability to the people of the world”
There are lots of problems and issues that then spring from that statement. For a start some people might argue that it sounds like ‘big state for the globe’ – while others might argue that the first thing multinational corporations will try to do – as they have successfully done with nation states, is to ‘capture’ the regulator. We saw this in banking. Big finance captured the politicians that mattered, solidified the theme of ‘light touch regulation’ and…the rest is history. It’s fine to have sound principles, but the real challenge is turning those principles into policies that people can relate to, then (assuming you end up in government) successfully delivering those policies.
“So, you’re not a member of them?”
As far as I’m aware, I’m not a member of any politics-related organisation – I need to protect Puffles’ party political neutrality. Though the Monster Raving Loony Party gig sounds like a laugh! Votes for dragon fairies and all that. On a more serious point, it’s the Cambridge branch of the Young European Movement that is one of the most active – one where a couple of the senior officers and the new president will be Cambridge-based.
Someone’s got to make a pro-European case, just one that’s not keeping things as they are
This is possibly the only thing the YEM and UKIP have in common: They don’t like the current state of play. They just have completely different views on how to deal with things.
It’s not just the political context the YEM are up against.
One of the big problems is our own (the UK’s) ignorance of our own history. Some of the origins of European federalism are UK-based – with the Federal Union of the 1930s and the founding of the Federal Trust in 1945. Ditto the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights. Yes – we had more than a little part to play in the founding of all of those. Foreign ideas being imposed on us by foreigners…history and the interplay of EU policy-making over the years tells us otherwise. UK Civil servants and ministers regularly meet with their EU counterparts. It’s just politically convenient to blame rather than change the EU.
Given the cultural context of Britain – or rather England’s rivalry with France (Scotland and France were traditionally allies against the English for centuries – just watch any Tudors’ documentary) and Germany, the pro-European cause isn’t easy to argue. Especially if the mindset is: “No, WE won the war – without help from anyone else! Therefore, WE write the rules, not you!” (Conveniently forgetting that in the grand scheme of things, the UK had lots and lots of help from all over the place, and that the UK by and large got to impose what it wanted on a swathe of Western Europe). As the world evolves, so must the laws that govern the people of it.
Should local Tories and ‘Kippers be afraid of this lot?
They’ll find them interesting to debate with, that’s for sure. But I don’t think that’s their initial ‘target audience’ for want of another phrase. At this stage, the network is very small. On top of that, the greatest potential they have I believe is within existing political parties and groups that are already positively disposed towards a more internationalist rather than an isolationalist outlook. Hardly the sorts of audiences those on the more Thatcherite end of the Conservative Party will be looking to engage with. With that in mind, it’s one of those networks where people could be members of say either the Greens, Liberal Democrats or Labour – or even non-aligned, and be part of that network. That’s not to say simply rocking up to the youth societies of those parties will automatically join up. There are a number of challenges to overcome – aside from the big ones I’ve mentioned at the top. These include:
Being a small network
This inevitably means a large burden falling on relatively few people. The challenge for the new national board is whether they can work together in a manner that means their impact will be greater than the sum of their parts. Ditto for how they use their various social media accounts.
An even smaller ‘home grown’ component
By this I mean people who have been educated in the UK school system. It’s one thing to be linguistically fluent in a language, but quite another to be culturally fluent in it. The latter can take decades – sometimes even spanning the generations before people feel ‘culturally at home’ in where they live. Four generations of my family were born in three different continents. What each generation culturally identified/identifies as ‘home’ is something & somewhere very different. My point? Empathising, relating to and understanding where your audience is coming from. Even if given the same message to present, a young French undergraduate from an affluent background is likely to come across differently to say someone from the UK from a working class background who never went to university.
Turnover of activists
This will always be a problem for any organisation run by and for young people: Age-wise, young people don’t stay young forever. Hence an interesting question put to those that stood for election to the YEM board was on what their ‘succession plan’ was for their replacement. How will they ensure that there is going to be someone else to stand for election in their place? (All bar one of the posts was uncontested). That question could apply to pretty much every voluntary organisation I’ve been associated with.
Communicating a positive vision that’s not shackled by the current crisis in the EU
This is where they need to be painfully honest about the past and current failings of the EU institutions, as well as being clear about what they *are* for. ie. “We are about X, Y and Z – what we currently see with the EU is definitely not these. We want to change that”.
What they do have going for them is the increasingly global nature of the challenges we as a society face. Climate change, international migration, food and energy security, trade, serious and organised crime – all of these challenges are international by their very nature. Thus they requires solutions that go beyond the structures of the nation state. Can the YEM make the case for an EU that tackles these issues while dealing with the many criticisms thrown at it?
Being in it for the long game
This is related to the turnover of activists and the lack of ‘home grown’ members. How do you get that stability needed to increase your impact? Which are the organisations that you need to form alliances with? The two dates that were mentioned – the 2014 elections and a possible 2017 referendum form two targets. These inevitably mean strategies for campaigning within political parties as well as beyond them. Some of the political parties I’ve mentioned have a strong strand of Euro-scepticism in them too. It’s not just confined to the right wing of politics. Some groups and party branches may not welcome pro-European campaigners and speakers.
Will we see anything happening in Cambridge?
Yes – but it remains to be seen in what context. Will they target only university/education circles? Will they expand to local political parties? Will they manage to break into, and then out of both bubbles? It’s not an easy task.