Now, it looks like D Day has come. Today you will vote for those who will represent you in the European Parliament for the next 5 years. After years of a very intense debate in which the media have been permanently talking in your name, you will experience this privileged moment where you actually decide. Well, experience predicts that barely 35% of you will actually turn up to vote, but that’s better than nothing. Indeed, it seems that ‘Europe’ does not rank high amongst your priorities. On the contrary, it is in many respects purely a Westminster obsession. This could be interpreted as a good thing: why bother getting involved in political debates if things go well? The problem is that if you do not decide, you can be sure that others will end up deciding for you.
As a Frenchman living in London since almost 4 years, I have had a fair amount of time to discover this country and know its people. For all the talk about your supposed ‘insularity’, I have found you to be one of the most open-minded people in the world, who display genuine interest for other people, wherever they come from. Who would dare say you are unwelcoming? I don’t know many countries whose capital saw the share of its ‘original’ population fall below 50% (2011 census) and remain reasonably stable, dynamic and up-beat. Many talk negatively about your supposed ‘exacerbated individualism’ – especially in my home country – but this criticism hypocritically hides one of British society’s greatest achievements: you actually trust people.
Tolerance, Trust and Open-mindedness: this could well be your version of ‘Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité’. For this very simple reason, when I see that in today’s election around 30% of you intend to vote for the UK Independence Party (UKIP), I can’t help but think that you are not being yourself. I find it depressingly ironic that a party that pretends to be the essence of ‘Britishness’ is in fact all the opposite.
Since the end of your colonial Empire, you seem to have been awkwardly searching for your role in the world, just like Mr. Bean would search for the lost keys of his Mini Cooper. I believe you are a role model of tolerance for the world. And in a world which will likely become more and more integrated, this is precious. Yes, you have just read a Frenchman write that you are precious: this shows how grave the situation is – just like when England had to cheer for France in its final game against Ireland in the 2014 Six Nations, in order to win the overall Tournament. This role model was never clearer as during the 2012 Olympic Games. I was a Games Maker at the time, and the atmosphere in London was simply fantastic as the entire world gathered in one of its greatest cities. People coming from everywhere genuinely experienced the unique feeling of being at home. London taught the world the most beautiful lesson: the best way to be great is to be great together.
I refuse to believe that such a strong universal feeling can vanish in barely two years.
These European elections are less important for Europe than for what they will say about you, and how you behave and believe as a society. Even if all goes well in your life and you do not feel any particular need to vote, never forget one of your greatest philosophers’ quotes: ‘the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing’ (Edmund Burke).
The eye of the foreigner is often a useful mirror for a country to know what it stands for. So if you don’t disagree too much with what you have seen so far: go to your local polling station and vote for the political party that you dislike least. And if it is UKIP, so be it, but do not forget that these four innocent letters are the first step down the road from Great Britain to Little England.