The upcoming European Union elections could possibly be the most significant and the most controversial to date. Between May 22 and May 25, the 413 million citizens eligible to vote throughout Europe will be given a chance to choose representatives for their constituency who will then go on to represent them in the European Parliament.
Loughborough is part of the East Midlands constituency, and next month we will elect six MEPs to carry out their work in Strasbourg and Brussels. Despite the negative publicity that has surrounded the EU recently, it is vital that we as students not only vote in the European elections, but that we actively engage with it, demonstrating the benefits it provides to us all.
As students the likelihood of any of us voting for a party such as UKIP is minimal; they offer little to nothing in way of higher education policies, and have clearly stated that it is not a major concern of theirs. In truth, it is not only absurd to vote for them, but it is counterproductive to elect a party to represent us in a place that they do not like, they do not trust, or even agree with at all.
However, the 2009 elections showed that only 29% of 18 to 24 year olds throughout all European member states cast their vote in the polls. Let’s be honest, it’s easy enough to laugh off these extreme parties when it seems to be every other day that a UKIP candidate is been caught tweeting another racial slur. But when they are gaining as much popularity as they are now and so few of us are voting, what is this saying about our nation as a whole?
Britain really isn’t doing itself any favours as a promoter of multiculturalism and democracy. And we as students have a responsibility to highlight the social benefits we gain from being a part of Europe. Even if you don’t agree with the concept of the EU, at the very least, we need to show that not all Brits are Romanian-bashing, Polish-hating xenophobes.
As students, we are in a unique position to engage with others from across Europe. Over the past 27 years, the erasmus programme has given three million students the opportunity to experience other cultures, learn new languages, and meet people from across the continent. Lower university fees throughout Europe have also given students the chance to study undergraduate and postgraduate degrees abroad without racking up a ridiculous amount of debt. Inexpensive travel means we are just a stones throw away from a weekend in Amsterdam, or a ski break in the Alps over Easter.
And overall, we are a part of something that is inclusive, inherently peaceful, and consistently working to improve itself. Abstaining from voting in the elections would not only increase the likelihood of extreme parties gaining momentum, but would show the world that we do not care about the politics which directly affects us. Whether we like it or not, we are a part of the European Union for the foreseeable future, we should at least work to ensure we send those with the best intentions to parliament.
Taking a back seat in the elections would reaffirm the mistaken belief that our voices are not represented. Ultimately, by voting we can show that we are a united voice of students and as a result our views can be vocalised. The flagship Erasmus+ programme has recently undergone a major overhaul, with approximately €14billion having been received over the past seven years (a 40% increase) with the intention of tackling youth unemployment and improving workplace skills.
Initiatives such as these can be developed and made available to even more if we can acknowledge their benefits. And at the very least vote in the European elections. In essence, our vote will not only help us improve our situation as students but can fundamentally influence the outcome of the elections overall. By not voting, we may well be indirectly voting for a party whose main goal is to undermine the international cooperation that has been so carefully built over the last half century.