Many people aren’t aware that elections for the European Parliament take place in just a few weeks’ time – and probably even fewer people will get excited about them! Decisions taken in Europe can seem remote from our everyday lives, and it’s easy to think that the person you send to Brussels won’t make any difference.
Yet Europe really matters, and the people who are at the negotiating table, or who have their fingers on the voting buttons, will have a huge impact on our lives for decades to come. The EU is far from perfect, but it can be a force for good, and that’s something to be built on, not destroyed. Many big decisions will be taken over the next few years – on issues from energy policy to food safety to free movement. The decisions will affect our rights, our public services, our jobs – and the protection of the land, sea and air that we share. So it’s crucial that everyone who has a vote makes sure they use it.
Perhaps one of the most positive influences of the European Parliament has been on human rights. Our shared parliament has been at the forefront of the battle for a fairer society for all, both within Europe and around the globe. The European Union was built on the values of respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy and equality. But these values are at stake in this election.
After years of austerity, we have seen some politicians trying to scapegoat immigrants and non UK citizens for the deepening poverty and inequality the country faces. This is not the fault of our international communities, but caused by corporate greed, reckless bankers, and damaging policy decisions which are designed to protect the privileged few. The xenophobic rhetoric which was once the reserve of the far right is becoming almost mainstream, and this is deeply worrying. London is a mega diverse city at the centre of Europe, and I’m proud of this fact. We must celebrate our many cultures, not create more division.
There is a real danger that we will see far-right parties gain ground across Europe. These are politicians who pretend to speak for everyday people, but who do not work for the common good. They see workers’ rights and fair pay as a luxury to be dismantled in the interests of corporate power. They deny the reality of climate change, and would destroy our planet for short term profit. They would remove our right to free movement – something enjoyed by the 1.5 million UK citizens living elsewhere in Europe, as well as the many citizens from other nations who choose to live here. Their rhetoric stirs up distrust and racism, closes borders and cuts choices – we will all lose out if they gain.
Make no mistake – these elections will decide the future direction of the EU. The far right are motivated and if they gain power it will damage the fabric of our society. All progressive voices, no matter which party you support, no matter where you come from, are needed to help ensure the MEPs who return to Brussels are people who will defend diversity, build sustainable jobs for the future, and protect decent standards of welfare, housing and human rights for all.
So these elections are incredibly important for us all, and everyone who can get involved should do so. We must make sure we don’t sleepwalk into a situation where the far right gain in strength. We need to back a positive vision for the future of Europe, with respect and dignity at its heart.