“The future of Europe is in our hands”

Louise Conway explores what is at stake in the upcoming EU elections

For most students, May 24 will be the first time we have had an opportunity to be directly involved in the European Union elections. We will have the chance to raise our voices for the future of Europe.

Many will agree that we are witnessing a turning point in Europe. We are unsure of the full consequences of Brexit, we need to see drastic changes in how climate change is tackled, there has been a rise of fascist parties across the EU, and with a rise in xenophobia and hate, racism, and homophobia, this year’s elections will have huge consequences for the future of Europe. On May 24, and in the lead up to this, I urge you to talk to friends and family, start conversations, speak to the candidates, and have your voice heard for the Europe that you want to be part of.

Through my involvement with Amnesty Ireland over the past few months, I have learned that the European Union affects us more than we think it does. Not only do MEPs decide on various legislation but they also hold member states accountable. The other roles of the European Parliament are budgetary and supervisory. With elections taking place just every five years, the upcoming elections are so important for the future of Europe.

Think back to one year ago, when students and young people were on the streets, knocking door-to-door, campaigning, marching ,and protesting to repeal the Eighth Amendment in Ireland. Think about women in Northern Ireland who still don’t have the right to abortion services, where there is still a near total ban on abortion, with laws that carry some of the harshest criminal penalties in Europe. In other EU states women do not have the access they need to abortion services, for example in Poland, Malta, and Cyprus. I want to be a part of a Europe that stands for gender equality, where women are allowed to make decisions about their own bodies, where sexual violence is addressed, and action is taken to ensure protection for all sexual orientations and gender identities.

The recent students’ strike against climate change called for systemic change. We have moved past the era of “reduce, re-use, recycle” and come to the realisation that not only do we need to make personal changes – yes, your keep-cup is still needed! – but we need to see more radical changes at national and European level. Let’s transfer the momentum and power that we saw at these climate strikes to May 24. The EU is involved in funding environmental projects and works on projects and programmes based around biodiversity, the circular economy, and sustainability. Another aim of the EU is to ensure that all plastic is recyclable by 2030. The EU 2020 targets hold EU member states accountable for not reaching certain environmental targets. Ireland is at risk of large EU fines, up to €455 million, if it does not reach these climate targets by 2020. I want to be a part of a Europe where representatives take ambitious actions to end the use of fossil fuels, make the move to renewable energy, ban single-use plastics, and move to a zero-carbon economy. I want to be part of a Europe where we acknowledge the student strikes and recognise the need to act now.

Asylum and migration are a huge topic of concern at both national and EU level, particularly in recent years, with thousands of migrants taking the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean to reach the shores of Europe. If we want to see changes to Europe’s immigration policies, then we need to participate in the political processes and make sure that EU candidates hear our voices in the lead up to the EU elections on May 24. The EU recently made a decision to end Operation Sophia, where naval services would save migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. Operation Sophia had rescued thousands of migrants who took the dangerous journey to Europe, also combatted human trafficking. Operation Sophia, aptly named after a young girl who was rescued from the Mediterranean, will now be reduced to aerial surveillance. The failure of the EU to establish a common refugee policy and put human rights at the forefront is a disgrace and won’t change without our input. I want to be a part of a Europe that offers a safe passage, and a fair and human rights focused asylum process; another reason why I will be making sure my voice is heard.

It is becoming more and more clear that it is necessary to hold European election candidates accountable for their actions and ask that they commit to human rights on our behalf. It is easy to feel overwhelmingly powerless, particularly when it come to the bureaucratic system of the EU. However, as young people we need to make our voices heard, not just for ourselves but for the future of Europe. The outcome of these elections will almost certainly pave the way for what Europe we will live in. It is more important now than ever.

What will I be doing in the lead up to May 24? Chatting to my family and friends, speaking out on social media, letting people know what I want for Europe, and asking them to think about it themselves. Europe is in an unsettling time and we need to act now more than ever; decisions we make now, as we have seen, will affect the future. I want to be a part of a Europe that values hope over fear, equality over discrimination, inclusion over exclusion – a Europe that tackles issues together.