When the 756 new Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) convene in Strasbourg in early July, they will sit in a chamber that is more divided than ever. Over the past few days, each of the 28 member-nations of the European Union has been voting to elect their respective MEPs — representatives who will determine the shape of the great political, economic and social project of the continent.
Clearly, in almost every nation, the political discourse has been divided as never before — nations split over what that European project should mean, over the role the free movement people should have, and whether it is indeed time to call an end to the EU itself.
While the national votes are still being counted, it’s clear that the disparate parties on the right of the European political spectrum have made significant gains, bringing a discordant voice in the parliamentary chamber in Strasbourg. Such is the nature of democracy, allowing for different voices to be heard, and the fact that the 400 million or so eligible voters across the EU have been free to elect those who offer starkly opposing views and contrasting futures, speaks well for the very nature of the pan-European project.
Next week, a month before that new divided parliament convenes, the nations of western Europe, along with the United States and other combatants and allies of the Second World War, will gather in Normandy to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings on 1944. That invasion marked the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany and its Axis allies — fascist regimes that allowed hate to fester and suppressed the most basic of all human rights. The sacrifice of the millions who opposed such hate must be remembered. So too, the victory of those who believed in liberty, equality, the freedom to be different, to believe in other ideals and creeds, to speak without fear of extermination or imprisonment.
EU core values
These are values that are central to the very core of the EU itself. In the past weeks of the campaigning, they are values that will have been drowned out by those who shout the loudest, stir up populist hate and look at Europe through myopic lenses. That is indeed a sad day — but also a by-product of open political discourse and free speech.
When those MEPs meet, they ought to reflect on what made the EU possible. The leaders of post-Second World War Europe had seen their fathers and brothers put on uniforms and bear arms to kill and destroy twice in two decades. There was a pledge then that would not happen again. That is legacy all new MEPs must respect.