As a society, we have more to lose than to gain if we leave argues German-Scot Svenja Meyerricks: “The founding principles of the EU as an institution promoting and protecting peace between its member states have not lost their significance in the last 65 years. Resisting its flaws is also a common European project, and critical voices are getting louder.”
Watching the debates around the EU referendum heat up as the date draws closer makes for a stomach-churning experience. Xenophobic voices are reaching a crescendo, while those of us who support open borders but are critical of the democratic deficit and free trade negotiations of the EU voice our alliances behind gritted teeth. It is even harder to witness for those who cannot vote in the referendum. Some of us, like me, are UK residents who don’t hold British citizenship, others are under 18 years of age. This means that those of us who arguably will be most affected by the outcome of the referendum do not have a vote in it.
First of all, it is right and important to be critical of the EU as it currently operates. The EU is deeply flawed, in terms of its democratic deficit, the prospects of entering a free trade agreement in which corporations are entitled to sue governments, fiscal sanctions of member states and the cruel restrictions of ‘Fortress Europe’ on keeping its borders closed to those in need… The list is long, and I won’t go into the details here as that has been done elsewhere.
Would the UK be better off outside the European Union in terms of protecting public goods and services, and the commons? Empty slogans like “taking back control” or “taking our country back” do not exactly constitute a vision for a fairer, more equal, ecologically wise alternative economic strategy to EU membership. As George Monbiot wrote, the current processes of rampant privatisation in the UK make it unlikely that in the case of Brexit the economic powers-that-be won’t enter similar or worse agreements. It might be a case of jumping from a frying pan into the fire: the neoliberal doctrine will burn us either way.
Economic issues aside, it’s primarily the racism and xenophobia at the core of so much of the Leave campaign that worries me. A real “breaking point” was Nigel Farage’s disgusting poster, which UNISON reported to the policefor inciting racial hatred. Then in an unconnected event, Jo Cox MP was murdered in a fascist terrorist attack. We know from history that when anti-immigration fear mongering becomes common place, it has destabilising effects and can nurture extremist views. Violent incidents are a warning sign that we need to reevaluate the direction in which we’re headed. To build a more compassionate society, we must fight for more compassionate legislation regarding refugees and asylum seekers rather than tightening our borders. The Home Office’s immigration politics resulting in dawn raids, the detention and deportation of asylum seekers are a disgrace which by and large we share with other European countries. Yet proportionally, applications for asylum in the UK lie below the European average. Farage’s “breaking point” rhetoric would be laughable if it didn’t sow toxic seeds into so many hearts clouded by fear.
What does the anti-immigration rhetoric mean for us EU citizens living in the UK? At the very least, the unfolding events and rhetoric provoke a growing unease about our status as immigrants. Our sense of belonging is being eroded, and it stings. To echo the sentiments of a fellow German-Brit:
“I have been privileged. What I sense now is nothing compared to those who have already been made to feel like an immigrant or outright unwelcome, because they are more obviously not ethnically British (whatever that means anyway) or they’re not “one of the good ones”.”
I’ve lived, studied and worked in Scotland for 12.5 years, but I’ve retained my German citizenship. I originally moved here to study, which was possible under the EU membership regulations. During my first year or so in Scotland, I was part of a thriving community of international and Erasmus students, a perk of the open and fluid borders we share. I stayed on, studied some more, voted in Scottish and local elections and the independence referendum, worked for different community organisations in Glasgow, participated in grassroots politics and activism, and built family ties. I’m a UK tax payer and am told that I have a German accent with a Scottish twang. This is now my chosen home. When I’m back in Germany to visit family and friends, sometimes people assume that I’m a foreigner because I now “talk funny” in my native language. A European identity perhaps best captures and describes my experience these days.
I’m very lucky to be a migrant and a foreigner by choice, knowing that this choice is open to all EU citizens. In fact, figures suggest that the number of EU citizens living in the UK is balanced by the number of Britons living abroad, which means that the Leave campaign’s rhetoric doesn’t add up. Our communities are diversified and enriched by migration. Yet the outcome of the referendum might close many doors for future generations who may no longer be able to enjoy the same fluidity and choices that many of us have taken for granted. The same future generations who can’t vote in the referendum may end up being deprived of their choices to enjoy the advantages of being a member of a diverse European community.
For us EU citizens, this referendum feels deeply personal: even though the Leave campaign promised to grant those of us currently living in the UK the right to stay, we cannot be certain about the ways in which an EU exit would affect our lives. As a society, we have more to lose than to gain if we leave. The founding principles of the EU as an institution promoting and protecting peace between its member states have not lost their significance in the last 65 years. Resisting its flaws is also a common European project, and critical voices are getting louder. Last year for example, 250,000 people protested against TTIP in Berlin. The EU’s aforementioned democratic deficit makes it unlikely that a shift for the better will happen soon, and it’s not guaranteed that it will happen at all: so much for the gritted teeth.
As a society, we have more to lose than to gain if we leave. The founding principles of the EU as an institution promoting and protecting peace between its member states have not lost their significance in the last 65 years. Resisting its flaws is also a common European project, and critical voices are getting louder. Last year for example, 250,000 people protested against TTIP in Berlin. The EU’s aforementioned democratic deficit makes it unlikely that a shift for the better will happen soon, and it’s not guaranteed that it will happen at all: so much for the gritted teeth.
Nevertheless, if I could vote, I know I’d not be siding with those who advocate closed borders, closed-minded nationalism and xenophobia. Neither would many young voters – at least those over 18 who are not excluded from voting. Instead, let’s remain in the EU and pour our energies into renewed campaigns to reform it, and into nourishing values of diversity, compassion and tolerance to counteract the dangerous and xenophobic tendencies that pose the real threat, socially and politically.
So if you have a vote in this referendum, please use it on Thursday! Young voters, rise up to the challenge to prove the polls wrong that predict your apathy!
For those of you who are still undecided on how to vote in the referendum, or who consider not voting at all: please bear in mind how the outcome of this referendum will affect those of us who can’t vote in it, and cast your vote on our behalf.