‘You can be a European and be against the EU’
A young camera crew took to the streets and found opposition to the EU is not just for ‘little Englanders’.
Venturing on to the streets of London with a trainee camera crew is always something of a minefield. Will local council jobsworths prevent us filming? They regularly try to. Will anyone stop to have their say? Will the sound be usable against a backdrop of market traders and dub-reggae preachers? And however much you tell yourself that there are plenty of smart people out there, when preparing to interview people on the EU, you always have doubts about the reaction you’ll get.
On the streets of Walthamstow in east London, our doubts faded fast. During the filming of citizen TV channel WORLDbytes’ The View On The Streets feature, we spoke to many eloquent, well-informed citizens seriously concerned about the current economic mess and the EU’s undemocratic set-up. Pro-EU sentiments were harder to find, but the few EU fans we did speak to expressed a barely concealed contempt for the public in justifying the EU’s behind-closed-doors operations.
For example, when asked ‘do you think Britain and other EU member states should be given a referendum on whether they should be part of the EU or not?’, one young woman from Germany replied: ‘That’s a difficult question. It might be okay, but there’s a lot of distortion in public opinion about what the advantages and disadvantages are. I think people have to be educated and then make an educated decision.’
This elitist disdain for the ‘ill-educated’ masses was actually one of the main gripes of many of the people we interviewed. As one young man told us: ‘The issue I think lies with the politicians and their advisers who believe that their general citizens don’t have enough information or are, how shall I put it, simply too dumb to realise the decisions they should make about the economy.’
On the contrary, he argued, ‘if there are any people who know most about the economy it’s the general public who are working, running businesses and being employees. They are in the best position, more than the politicians themselves.’
‘The View On The Streets: The European Union’, WORLDbytes.
When our interviewers suggested to those critical of the EU that ‘some people argue that if you’re against the EU you’re bigoted, you’re a nationalist, and you’re a racist’, the answers we got were salutary. As one man explained: ‘We disagree with our own families, we disagree with our own governments, with our own councils, that doesn’t make us racist or anything else, does it?’
Another responded: ‘It’s nothing to do with that. This is just the opinion of some people. I’ll give you an example, the case of Greece. Their ex-prime minister, the one who resigned, he promised to give a referendum to the people and suddenly they just pushed him away and bring in another prime minister so there is no referendum. Where is the democracy here? Democracy is supposed to be the voice and choice of people. They make the law in Belgium, not in Britain, France, Germany or anywhere. There is a group of people making the law for the rest of us.’
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The anger at the EU expressed by many we spoke to was clearly not fuelled by ignorance, parochialism or bigotry. Rather, as one person said, ‘It’s just become its own power, and it’s like a giant Vatican City. It’s beholden to no one; they just make up their own rules. It’s just really backwards and I don’t understand why we put up with it, to be honest.’
The EU’s contempt for democracy and the will of the people was also not lost on those we spoke to: ‘I mean Ireland had a referendum and Greece wanted to have a referendum. One of them had a referendum and the people said no, we don’t want these laws and the EU said, do it again and this time vote yes. How can they get away with that? Who decided that we should give up our rights…? It’s like a company. I wouldn’t trust a company with my rights. That’s why we have governments because they’re built for the people.’
Many of the people we spoke to mounted a defence of national sovereignty, but not for xenophobic reasons. As one person argued, ‘[the EU] has been created to strip every single country of their sovereignty. So the law is not made in every single country, the law is made in Belgium and it is part of the new world order… and they have broken all the sovereignty of all the countries like they have done in Iraq, in Libya, in too many countries. This is the idea of the EU. There is nothing good about it basically… What is democracy? Democracy is not just the voice of Tony Blair or David Cameron or Sarkozy or whoever, it is the voice of people, it is the voice of me.’
Coupled with this sense of the importance of democracy was a disgust at the hypocrisy of Western governments’ support for uprisings in the Arab world. ‘We’ve just spent a whole year celebrating all these places in Africa and the Middle East having their tyrannical governments overthrown and people getting their power back, and here we are at the same time saying let’s get back to our own issues and give more power to the EU.’
But being against the EU did not mean the people we spoke to were anti-European. One young Romanian woman explained that, to her, ‘being European means we should all have the same rights and freedom of movement to go and work in other countries… You can be a European and be against the EU at the same time because the EU imposes on governments what to do with their money and who to elect and people don’t have any say about that. That is just not democratic at all. Being a European has nothing to do with the EU anymore and that’s really sad.’
Our experiences speaking to a wide range of people on the streets of London show that opposition to the EU is not the preserve of bigoted ‘little Englanders’, as some Europhile journalists and politicians would like to have you think. Far from it, in fact.
Ceri Dingle is the director of the education charity WORLDwrite. All of the WORLDbytes The View On The Streets series are available to watch here.