Whenever there is a crisis, there are a number of ways to deal with it. It stands to reason, in most situations, that an organisation re-evaluates the way it has been conducting itself, which may or may not have lead to the crisis in the first place. Brexit is such an opportunity for the European Union.
The EU is left with a political class which not only didn’t believe that an exit from their organisation would ever happen, but which is also incapable of drawing the conclusion that their mantra has been seriously questioned. Even the day after the Brexit vote, the conclusion in Brussels was that this would be the opportunity to continue to drive European integration even further.
No EU leader will be able to convince an electorate that leaving the union will lead to a new armed conflict on the continent.
However, public debate around Brexit has revealed more than just a blind political class which doesn’t admit to a more than decade-long faux-pas: it is the portrayal of euroscepticism as a backwards and dangerously nationalistic ideology that is so indicative of the way that the EU wants to go. It has indeed changed course, because one thing is for certain: political integration as an antidote to war in Europe is a completely hopeless argument.
No EU leader will be able to convince an electorate that leaving the union will lead to a new armed conflict on the continent. David Cameron of all people should know, since he famously made that attempt, by stating that leaving the EU could lead to World War 3. We will all supposedly cower in our bunkers on March 29 2019.
In order to gain popular support for its political endeavours, Brussels has chosen a more ideological way: creating a European identity. This takes the form of #IamEuropean hashtags on Twitter, or protest chants – the likes of “EU we love you” – along with historical symbolisms such as the French president Emmanuel Macron choosing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony for his victory speech at the Louvre last year. But these are just political gadgets in comparison to the broad range of EU-funded initiatives for young people. The keyword is Erasmus+.
The Erasmus programme funds more than just studying exchanges. Since it merged with the EU’s “Youth in Action” initiative, it also funds student conferences, which, to no surprise, do not embolden young people to be very critical of the EU. The “European Youth Parliament (EYP)”, co-funded through Eramus+, recruits students as young as 16 for its events, in which they simulate EU debates.
The structure of the debates makes it imperative for the students to find solutions to current problems that need to be solved by the EU. Absence of action is not an option, and in fact, minors are peer-pressured in committee sessions to decide by unanimous consent: “After all, it’d be such a bore if your group were the only one without a final text.”
Another project, “Young European Leadership (YEL)”, (also co-funded with EU taxpayer money), states that it wants to empower young people to be active European citizens, who provide critical input. Critical only to an extent, it seems, as YEL has been awarded the European Charlemagne Youth Prize 2016, as one of the best projects “in the entire European Union to foster European integration”.
As much as there is a good case against EU nationalism and EU integration, there is an even better case for individualism.
These are just two of a long list of examples of EU-funded programmes, in which “empowering European citizens” is code for being nothing but European Union support groups. These young people are flown out to numerous countries and accommodated on EU expenses, taking selfies with Martin Schulz and standing straight to the EU’s anthem. Secondary school and university students are told that they too can have flourishing careers in EU bureaucracies, and return from their trips with a twisted notion of what it means to be European.
To an extent, they cannot be blamed. If all you had been told repeatedly is that the EU represents all that is good on this continent, and when it has been implied that its existence is essential to civilised cooperation, then you too would regard its opponents as bigots. If you’re really interested in why prominent eurosceptics face so much abuse online, look no further than EU-funded “education” initiatives.
The future of EU leadership will not be the Jean-Claude Junckers or Michel Barniers, but much more in the image of former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt: a man so fanatical that he wants to create a “United States of Europe”. For him and his supporters, the unitary European state can be created once people internalise this “European identity”.
EU-funded projects, and political organisations which fuel the concept of EU nationalism, don’t feel set back by Brexit, but much rather emboldened by the political capital they seek to get out of its repercussions.
What we need are young people who are willing to doubt interventionist governments and who aren’t afraid to ask the fundamental questions about the nature and role of the state. What we are likely getting, however, is a generation which has been set to support this political project no matter what, either because they reap personal benefits from it, or because they swallow the political ideology of the “European identity”. This has large implications as to how we will debate the European Union in years to come, including many for a United Kingdom outside the EU.
We can combat this tendency with the same tools we use to argue against interventionist nationalists already. It means making a consistent case for free trade and against protectionist food standards or agricultural subsidies. It means arguing for accountability of the political system, instead of a bureaucracy sheltered thousands of miles away from the citizens it purports to govern.
It means warning of the inherent danger of centralisation by emboldening individuals to bring power back to local communities and regions. As much as there is a good case against EU nationalism and EU integration, there is an even better case for individualism. If this generation of young people is indeed one of idealists, then we need to suggest to them ideals worth standing for. They are called individualism, limited government, and liberty.