I'm German, not British. It will not be me who votes on June 23rd and no matter what the outcome, it will directly affect British society in a completely different way from how it could affect me.For me, throwing arguments at people who are in favour of leaving a platform of international dialogue might therefore also lead to nothing. “Why should I listen to someone who is European in the first place? Europe only profits from us, of course they want us to stay?” - is probably the most frequent answer I have received, when trying it that way.
Since my insight into what the European idea looks like have grown ever since I moved to Brussels, I really just see the urgency of a serious debate. Whether it is in Germany or in the UK.
The EU has to change, yes.It has to be more inclusive with regard to its decision taking processes, yes. But giving up in unprecedented times of struggle, after a financial crisis, during a refugee crisis and in a world with growing competition and struggles – economically and in geopolitically – seems like a decision that is blurred by too many factors. These challenges will stay, will only grow and leaving the EU will neither solve any of these issues nor will it make the discussion easier.
Also in Germany, where I grew up, there is growing Euroscepticism. This is due to post-democratic tendencies; due to yet another circle of nationalist beliefs, of populism; but mostly because of a detachment to what is happening here in Brussels. It is due to a distance in our head which I argue, is self-inflicted.
British students often referred to me as “European” which always had the weird aftertaste of British exclusion for me.“Continental” was often being used in order to draw attention to the cultural differences that supposedly only mirror the geographic distance between continental Europe and the UK. In no other country did the linguistics take such a European approach. Europe is completely heterogenous in itself, that's why in France I have been referred to as “German”. Nowhere else did people call me “European” - not even in the US.
It takes me two hours to get from Europe's capital to London by train. A quarter of the time it takes me to get to Berlin. Moreover, we live in the age of Easyjet and Ryanair which have shrinked geographical barriers to a minimum. In our office, our everyday life I am constantly surrounded by a minimum of four European nationalities and yet, we speak English.
This “distance” that everyone refers to, it is in our head.And feeling different from every European you might have met in the UK, is part of the European experience; this is what makes it great:
Despite of all these differences, there are common denominators. Let's therefore reconsider our cultural barriers, let's reevaluate them and ask, whether they fit in the 21 st century.
Yet, after all, we are not in the position to tell anyone what to do or how to live their lives. Thus, when we sat down in our EUJS office to discuss our Brexit campaign we consensually agreed to define our target group as young Brits who are undecided or supporters of a British leave. In order to reach those people and actually convince them, two factors determine your success: Do they listen? And, do they change their opinion based on what they've heard?
Therefore, we took a binary approach: short clips that convey a simple message - #cometogether “because one is no fun without the other” - and a website, that shares student perspectives. We want everyone to at least constructively engage in the debate. And whoever wants to experience the EU first hand, is invited to take the train and visit us in Brussels. Before and after the elections!
(Check the website: www.cometogether4europe.com)
Benjamin Fischer, president of the European Union of Jewish Students.