For almost all first and second years, European elections in May will be the first time we have ever, even indirectly, been consulted on Brexit. Every side claim ‘the will of the people’ supports them, and these elections offer a chance to break that deadlock. With MPs rejecting every single option in recent ‘indicative votes’ to find a way forward, there is no doubt that any conclusion drawn from these elections will shape the trajectory of negotiations until the 31st October, our extended deadline for negotiations with the EU.
As the presidents of Oxford’s EU country societies, we recognise how high the stakes are in these elections. Crucially, EU students here can vote, unlike in general elections: we too can give our verdict on the way Brexit has gone.
But this vote is about more than Brexit. Given that we are at least going to be part of the European Union until next Commission is chosen, the principles of British MEPs is set to look more crucial than ever before. According to polls for the Financial Times, the centre-right and centre-left pro-European groupings are set to lose their overall majority. Meanwhile, the far-right looks likely to achieve over a third of the seats, and so for the first time get a chance to “disrupt the way the EU works.” Just earlier this month, the far-right leader of Italy, Matteo Salvini, convened a meeting to form a new alliance in the European Parliament, bringing together allies including Marine Le Pen’s National Rally and Austria’s Freedom Party (FPÖ) alongside Germany’s AfD and the Danish People’s Party. How Britain votes could have a crucial effect on the balance of power in Brussels, and how the mood of Europe’s electorate has shifted.
Oxford is represented by 10 MEPs allocated for the South East Region. In 2014, three were elected from UKIP, and three from the Conservative Party. They include the prominent Eurosceptics Daniel Hannan and Nigel Farage. The rest include the UK’s single Lib Dem, 2 Labour, and 1 Green. This is not representative of the region’s political alignment: in the case of Labour, their share of the vote (just 14.7% compared to UKIP’s 32.1%) in the 2014 European elections for the South East region was significantly less than their share in the immediately preceding general election. We must choose who represents us on a European stage: however you’re intending to vote, no one can doubt the importance of these elections.
This is entirely due to who is voting, and who is being represented. According to the Electoral Commission, one in three 18-24 year-olds are not even registered to vote in comparison to 96% of over-55s. At the moment, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party is riding high in the polls: but only based on voting trends from previous European elections. We can change that. Students have until the 7th May to register to vote online. If you an EU student here intending to vote in the UK rather than your home country, you also need to fill out a European Parliament voter form and send to your local authority also by the 7th May.
We may not be in the EU for much longer. This is not a general election. But the outcome of these European elections will have wide-reaching effects on both domestic and international politics. The outcome of this vote will be seen as an indicator of the country’s position not just on a second referendum or a customs union, but on climate change and immigration. Young people can’t afford to be ignored on these issues. 2014 had the lowest turnout in the history of European elections. Let’s vote for our future and make 2019 different.
Rosa Boîtel-Gill, President of the Oxford University Irish Society
Cyprien Denolle, President of the Oxford French Society
Theresa Feicht and Leo Maedje, Co-Presidents of the Oxford German Society
Francesco Galvanetto, President of the Oxford Italian Society
Kryštof Jirků, President of the Oxford Czech and Slovak Society
Benedicte Wulff, President of the Oxford University Scandinavian Society
Michał Tarnowski and Dorota Kolarska, Co-Presidents of the Oxford Polish Society
Register to vote at https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote
Visit https://www.vfyf.co.uk for more information about registration for the EU elections.