An Ode to the European Union: why this time I’m voting

Has the European Union, despite being a relatively young project, been in place long enough to be already taken for granted? Nationalist right-wing movements sweeping across Europe, the rise of xenophobic violence and the loss of faith in centrist leaders suggest that a look back at why the EU is a necessity and not an option is strongly needed to ensure that the most successful peace project continues.

Marine Le Pen and the National Rally in France, Matteo Salvini’s Lega in Italy, or Alexander Gauland’s AfD in Germany – the rise of right-wing, nationalist and Eurosceptic political parties is affecting all of Europe. Just this week, German chancellor Angela Merkel decided to step down as party leader following the disastrous results in recent state elections slowly corroding her center-right party’s long-standing success rates. Centrist parties endure increasing difficulties trying to maneuver the return of nationalist rhetoric while losing voters to the extremes on both sides. Meanwhile, violent incidents continue to occur across the continent, incited by hate speech and the fear of anything that may be outside of one’s comfort zone. It seems there is a longing for “strong leaders” who, often simplifying both history and the problems at hand, are hoped to protect the nation’s borders and, strictly speaking, keep immigrants out.

What does that mean for Europe? I believe that united in diversity is not simply a motto but actually the EU’s most valuable asset and the foundation of its existence. While some may see the EU merely as a single market or a peculiar construct of governance (as Henry Kissinger once famously put it: “Who do I call if I want to call Europe?” ), it has always been a peace project – and a very successful one, too. European integration is what made a World War III unimaginable, by interlinking not only national economies and preventing single hegemony but also by connecting citizens (think Schengen and Erasmus for instance).

Obviously, the EU is far from being perfect. Outside of the Brussels bubble, political debates rarely gain significant traction in national news and if they do, they are often portrayed as meaning more unnecessary burden imposed by some “unelected bureaucrats”. Beyond doubt, the EU needs to work on its visibility and communication efforts but even more so it needs to focus on its original mission of securing peace by being united in diversity. The EU has already made it so far, connecting people and enabling prosperity, yet we are at a crucial junction where we need to decide where we want to go: is it the path back to nationalism à la “My Country First” or is it time to re-vitalize this 60-something-year-old project and do something great together? The latter is already showing some promising trends, looking at for instance increased cooperation in defense and security. What is clear is that it has never been hate, division and fear that has brought about peace. That is why #thistimeimvoting.

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