Just to start off EU election day with a bang: on the way to work, last Friday, I found a lady complimenting the local butcher on Rue Le Peletier for “being a traditional shop rather than one of those shitty halal places spreading like wildfire”. I probably should have foreshadowed the Italian and French results from that prelude, since that scene was a classic glimpse of everyday life in Italy too. It took two days to know about the extent of the anti-halal nightmare, but I went to a high school in the centre of Paris anyway, with a big smile on my face. It is a ritual I could never give up, even when the outcome hurts your true being.
When I started writing this monthly column, I was already a staunch Europeanist. If possible, this wave of rage against the EU machine was even more of a push to defend it. In the third year spent rambling around and regarding Europe, it was the EU funds that convinced my family my experience would not be a complete burden on them. In my first and second year, my EU citizenship made me worth the funding offered by the Scottish Government to escape a boring education and finally get a linguistic edge. I have never looked back, on the contrary, I learned how to always look forward – and the EU should do the same at such a crucial time.
If there is one thing we learnt from last week’s election, it is the lack of European public debate. High turnout had to be compared with a generally low participation, just like the EU-level competition became a theatre for domestic politicians to push for national revolutions over everything else. It is terrifying to see how little will there is for a final push towards unity, a unity far less federalist than many would fear to see. Praising international organisations for their 100th anniversary is a big hypocrisy when most of them suffer the consequences of a sovereign chess game. Even worse, it is a time in which the youth is taking over that game and making it fairer, but at the cost of being considered reckless and inexperienced. What a mere lie.
People of my age predictably voted for a green landslide to give out a signal, but it does not seem to be well received. My generation travelled, became integrated when possible, fought for seeing their dreams financed and recognised across borders. It is the leitmotif of my friendships with people in Paris, Glasgow, Hamburg, anywhere I have been and will continue to visit. The fact that this group does not enter traditional politics is making the latter survive on poor leadership and the vanishing charisma of a few “strong men” with no awareness of such beauty and its implications. At this stage, I personally believe that the call to enter EU politics is becoming an obvious consequence: whether by being a staff member, a researcher, a young activist, or a simple citizen asking questions; we are all in this together.
I found it fascinating that we are letting domestic discourses prevail over a broader discussion on which direction we are taking, as a group of states with common challenges to tackle. I spent the year trying to get my head round to it, but it has turned into a more instinctual dilemma, on the basis of trust and imagination. Does Salvini have a right to talk for Europe or just for Italians? Has the failure of previous governments made EU a facade to hide from embarrassment, a bit like the elder brother you hide behind? Or is there actual hope that we can pull ourselves together, include all advice – contrary and in favour – and make a difference?
Parisian streets keep reminding me that the last option is the only possible one. I see black marble plates everywhere to commemorate children deported and massacred in Buchenwald. One white rectangle is at the corner of Rue de Dunkerque, next to the human traffic of Gare du Nord, and celebrates the life of a 22-year-old partisan dying in a Citroen car in an undercover operation against the Nazis. Place de la République remains in everyone’s memory from the collective burial following the 2015 attacks, the day Europe mourned as one mother for all. Europe stands up to the pain despite being under equipped for such a task. I want to be part of this spiritual moment in the hope it will not happen again and build on those damaged roots.
By the time I come back to the UK, Europe will have lost once more. May that be a teaching for everyone to start from scratch to find new roads. And for once, just for once, be that because of a strange election twist or another crisis, we should fight like one voice. I will make sure mine is louder and clearer.