THE upcoming European elections present us with a puzzling paradox. Picture this: the vast majority of European citizens enthusiastically applaud the benefits of EU membership, yet when it is time to head to the polling stations, there is more silence than action.

This intriguing disparity between praising the EU and participating in the democratic process sheds light on a genuine dilemma for the union: how to maintain enthusiasm and ensure that citizens remain engaged in European affairs.

The latest Eurobarometer offers a revealing snapshot. A remarkable 71% of EU citizens believe their country has reaped the rewards of EU membership, with 47% holding a favourable view of the EU itself.

Even in nations where criticising Brussels was once a national pastime, such as Hungary and Poland, anti-EU sentiment appears to have waned: 46% of Hungarians and 51% of Poles now proudly support EU membership.

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Yet, juxtaposed against these sentiments are polling results indicating a disheartening trend. Only 45% of voters, and a mere 24% of the 18-34 age group, currently express a likelihood of voting in the EU elections.

It seems that when it comes to naming specific actions taken by the EU in recent years, many find themselves scratching their heads when asked to pinpoint specific policy measures: only one out of five French citizens can pass that test, according the recent polls.

And this, with just over a month to go until the June 9 vote.

In our middle school civic education classes, we may delve into the roles of the European Parliament, the European Council, and the European Commission, but let’s be honest, those lessons tend to fade into the background over time.

The National: European Parliament building, in StrasbourgThe European Parliament building 

However, despite our forgetfulness, the EU has woven itself into the very fabric of our lives through initiatives like freedom of movement and Erasmus.

These programs have not only shaped identities but also flung open doors of opportunity across the continent. The EU’s impact on our daily lives is undeniable, and in the tumultuous years of the pandemic, it has proven that it can boldly step up to the plate when the need arises.

In a historic milestone for the EU, 2020 saw European states collectively borrow a staggering

€750 billion to fuel post-Covid recovery efforts, despite initial hesitations from Germany and Nordic countries.

This impressive display of economic solidarity proved crucial in preventing the crisis from exploding economic gaps among member states, thereby safeguarding the very essence of the union.

In 2022, after a marathon of negotiations, the directive on minimum wage finally got the green light. This landmark decision promises to uplift the lowest wages in several countries, with a two-year adjustment period about to kick into gear.

However, amidst this potential for transformative change, there’s a cloud on the horizon: the spreading shadow of misinformation and a growing sense of detachment from EU institutions.

Indeed, the lack of awareness about EU realities creates fertile ground for misinformation and misrepresentation.

VOTERS’ disconnect manifests in various ways, from voter apathy to the concerning surge of far-right parties among disenfranchised populations. Ironically, those harbouring the strongest disdain for the EU

are those set to gain significant influence in the upcoming June elections.

According to a survey involving a whopping 26,000 Europeans across 18 member states, it seems like the pro-EU parties – The Greens/EFA, S&D, Renew Europe, and EPP – are gearing up to dominate the next European Parliament, representing an estimated 63% of the seats.

That would be a total of 453 seats out of 720. But when you focus on individual countries, things take a more intriguing turn. The nationalist right, represented by the ID group, is gaining momentum.

From France’s Rassemblement National to Belgium’s Vlaams Belang, and even to the Netherlands with Geert Wilders’s Party for Freedom (PVV), these anti-European, xenophobic, regressive parties are running extremely successful campaigns.

So for me, it is only natural to wonder: how can we navigate this situation? How can we ensure that the EU remains relevant in the eyes of its citizens?

The National: EU Flag. Photo: Getty

I think, in the end, that is why I enjoy doing “Our Friends in Europe” so much.

It is a platform where I can delve into pressing questions concerning European citizens, but it is impossible not to see the resonance with Scotland and the UK more generally.

By exploring common challenges and sharing insights from diverse perspectives, I hope to contribute to a deeper understanding of what is happening in the EU and the implications for Scotland and the UK.

Over the past few months, I have had the pleasure of exploring a variety of topics, from agriculture and housing to workers’ rights, Erasmus, and EU reform.

My goal has been to present these complex issues in relatable, concrete, and knowledgeable ways, to bridge the gap between EU policies and people’s everyday lives.

With Sorcha Edwards from Housing Europe, we spoke of countries which maintained high levels of social housing, helping citizens find affordable, good-quality housing, thanks to a political consensus around affordable housing.

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With Dr Louisa Prause from the Bosch Foundation, we explored how agriculture could transition to a more sustainable model and help us meet our climate targets.

AND in the next episode, going live later this week,

I spoke to Spanish Socialist MEP Domenec Ruiz Devesa about his views that we should have a federal Europe, and his thoughts on Brexit and Scotland rejoining the EU.

I can’t wait to tackle even more topics in the future, from immigration and energy to culture and defence.

Each new subject offers a fresh opportunity to inform, educate, and engage with people reading this newspaper, so please feel free to make suggestions and requests!

Everyone I have had the pleasure of speaking with shares a common vision: the urgent call for rebuilding, driven by the pressing need for infrastructure improvement and democratic reform.

They all advocate for a shift away from the “race to the bottom” mentality, recognising that true competitiveness lies in fostering thriving societies and robust economies, and putting citizens at the heart of decisions.

This is a version of “taking back control” I can adhere to. The sense of disenchantment among citizens isn’t unique to the EU; it’s a global phenomenon, and my goodness, we feel it so much in the UK.

I believe addressing the root causes of this disengagement demands an approach that tackles the challenges we have in common.

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They include implementing policies to fight against inequality, support human rights, protect basic living standards, and strengthen democratic governance both at the EU and national levels.

Even if Scotland is on a different course, out of the EU for the foreseeable future, the insights gleaned from these conversations are still incredibly relevant.

If you, too, share this much-needed ambition for a fair, prosperous and cohesive society, then you should absolutely listen to these European perspectives: they can offer valuable lessons that can inform Scotland’s journey toward a brighter future.