In the ongoing debate over the pros and cons of the European Union, it has become far easier to learn what is wrong with it than what is right with it. Eurosceptic parties and their leaders have made themselves well known, and the eurosceptic media make their case loudly and incessantly.
The result is a one-sided debate in which we still hear far too little about the achievements and benefits of the EU. Pro-Europeans need to speak up more often and more forcefully, otherwise there is a real danger that the debate over Europe will be won by default by eurosceptics. Most worryingly, the debate is taking place in a vacuum of understanding, most Europeans freely admitting that they neither understand the EU nor often talk about European political matters.
The dilemma was nicely underlined by a recent report from the UK Electoral Commission on the proposed wording of the question for the referendum on UK membership of the EU. The question to be posed is “Do you think that the United Kingdom should be a member of the European Union?” This sounds simple enough until we realize that a significant number of Britons do not know that the UK is already a member of the EU.
Unless something is urgently done to change the state of the game, then we might find ourselves in the situation where we find that – with apologies to Winston Churchill – never in the field of political decision-making has so little been understood by so many or the debate been so patently one-sided.
Pro-Europeans need to step up and make themselves heard before it is too late. We cannot rely on politicians or staff members of the European institutions or the pro-European lobby. Ordinary Europeans need to become involved in the debate, which means learning more about the true pros and cons of Europe.
It may be modest, but a good place to start may be in those ubiquitous comments columns that often follow online stories about the EU. Hiding behind their anonymity, anti-Europeans are good at expressing their hostility to the EU, often quoting the myths and misconceptions that eurosceptics are so good at generating. Pro-Europeans could do well to respond and inject new perspectives into the discussions.
It’s more than time that we heard from pro-Europeans. There are plenty of them out there, and they need to step up in order to inject some much-needed balance into the debate over Europe.