The following interview first appeared in the Spanish online paper El Northern.
We have translated the interview into Italian and English.
Click here to see the original interview in Spanish: El Northern
What is New Europeans and what is it’s goal?
We are an association which champions the value and the values of European citizenship. We aim to protect and build on the existing rights of European citizens, such as our rights to free movement within in the EU and to vote and stand in local and European elections. We aim to encourage and facilitate the participation by European citizens in the communities and societies where they live and work. And we aim to give European citizens a stronger voice in shaping Europe’s future.
When did this initiative start?
We began New Europeans at the end of 2012, when it become clear from the 2010 British census that there were over 2 million European expat citizens living in the UK and a similar number of British expats living in other EU member states. We believe that this is something to celebrate and be built on. We would like to see greater mobility in Europe. We also know that there is a lot of misunderstanding about the value of migration within Europe especially but not only in Britain. We were also concerned at the prospect that the UK might leave the European Union as the result of a possible no vote in a future referendum. This would leave the position of European expats n the UK and British expats in other EU member states highly uncertain.
Why you consider it’s important the European Union citizens to vote at the EU Parliament Elections on May 22nd?
It is right in principle to vote in elections – when I think of the struggles that working people and women in Britain went through to obtain the vote or the long years of authoritarianism in Spain, I sometimes find it very hard to understand why people do not want to vote. For me, exercising our choice at an election is really what it means to be a free person – I can’t separate the two ideas in my mind.
At this election, we have the choice between one set of candidates (mainly UKIP ones) who want to take Britain out of the European Union and make politics by attacking European citizens for coming to the UK in the first place and another set of candidates (most Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Labour, Greens) who do not want to do this.
New Europeans does not support any single political party, but we do want to engage with candidates and politicians who are committed to representing European citizens and their interests and we do not believe this can be done by marching the UK to the exit door of Europe.
It is simply a fact of life that European citizens’ interests will not be served if Britain leaves the EU.
So that is a very practical reason, to add to the argument in principle, for why all European citizens in the UK should vote in these elections.
Do not let individual politicians who want to take away your right to freedom of movement win this election. Vote for the other candidates instead.
Do you think there is enough information from the authorities about the right to vote for Europeans in the UK?
There is never enough information! However there are many other problems as well which mean that we will not have the fullest possible participation by European citizens in these elections.
I regard this as a very serious matter and it may have far-reaching consequences. European citizens in the UK now make up 3% of the electorate – so we are a powerful voice and can determine the outcome of elections.
This can only happen if we are registered to vote and his is not something that the authorities have made easy for us.
Firstly, many people do not know that they have to register to vote. Secondly, many people do not know that they have to sign a special form to declare they will only vote in the UK and not for example in Spain. Thirdly, many people do not know where to obtain the form or what they need to do with it once they have filled it in.
That is why New Europeans has launched a voter registration and mobilization campaign for European citizens.
We provide al the information you need through our website and have also produced a letter I each national language to explain what to do – the deadline for registration is on or before Tuesday, 6 May.
You can download our letter about voter registration (in Spanish) here.
You can download the voter registration form here – please sign and complete the form and return it to your local council on or before 6 May.
Do you consider there is a lack of information regarding EU politics in the UK?
It was put very well I think in a famous lyric by Paul Simon “a man (or woman) sees what he/she wants to see and disregards the rest…”
It is a frustrating fact of life that the British public are simply not very interested in Europe and not at all in the European Union.
This is not just my experience as a former MP and pro-European campaigner, it is demonstrated again and again by opinion polls.
When British people are asked to rank the issues that are most important to them, Europe hardly ever comes in the top 10.
This makes it all the more extraordinary that British politics should be so dominated by the issue of Europe.
However, the British political debate about Europe does not serve to inform people – I fact it makes Europe even more of a turn-off.
Europe must be made relevant not form the perspective of the politicians but from the perspective of the people, the men and women, the citizens of Europe.
If Europe means that your son or daughter has more opportunities then you will be interested in Europe.
If Europe means that you can get healthcare for free in any EU member state, that your relatives can travel here freely to see you, then you will be interested in Europe.
If Europe means that you can afford more return journeys to Spain because the single market has cut the cost of fares and of mobile phone calls, then you will be interested in Europe.
So we need to understand the difference that Europe can make as we move within Europe to build our family ad working lives.
This is what we are aiming to achieve with New Europeans.
What’s your opinion about the political parties blaming the EU for all the problems in the country?
They are wrong to do so , but it was always like this and it probably always will be.
Over the last 20- 60 years ago politicians have also said used Europe as a reason to bring about unpopular reforms which they wished to adopt anyway.
You might argue that it has always been the role of Europe to help politicians out of a tight spot. It was the case many years ago when politicians needed a river for change. It is the same today when politicians need someone to blame.
Much needs to change and be reformed in Europe but to say that Europe is the problem makes it impossible to see Europe as part of the solution (which I believe it is).
In the future, Europe will have to change quite radically I imagine to meet the expectations of the citizen.
In the meantime, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, the “EU is the worst way of conducting relations in Europe except for all the other ways that have been tried”.
And by the way, Winston Churchill was great believer in European union – but then he was a statesman and not a party politician.