Outside the Hemicycle building at the European Parliament (8.30am in the morning)
Today is the first day of meeting MEPs in the European Parliament, along with various political activists from the North West, and a number of Manchester Metropolitan University students. As an arts professional, I have a lot of concerns for the creative industries and it’s reliance on free movement around Europe to produce the world-class art, music and and culture that brings in a great deal of money (£10.8 billion in 2019) to the UK economy. You can read more about some of the ongoing issues and questions for the industry in my previous post here.
Morning Meeting with Green MEPS
Firstly, we met with UK South West Green MEP Molly Scott Cato and and Swedish Green MEP Per Gahrton.
Molly spoke about being ‘in the middle of a grieving process’ as well as angry at the direction that the country has taken. She has been working on behalf of the EU to look into tax evasion, and building sustainable finance – passing those reports onto various governments. She mentioned that while no-one is irreplaceable, she is heartbroken not to be continuing to use her skills in these areas, especially with the issues now facing businesses in the UK. For example, working outVAT is now a huge problem for small businesses.
When asked about what she thought would happen next, Molly said she felt that Brexit would have to ‘play out in its worst fashion’ to dispel any lingering myths about the EU and its supposed disadvantages. She also mentioned her concerns about the media, whom she felt had failed to report on important political victories and legislation that UK MEPs had achieved.
Per, however, seemed more optimistic and spoke about the long history of cooperation between the Scandinavian countries, the UK and Ireland.
There wasn’t much discussion of the free movement issue, although on the end of Molly’s speech I did raise a question of how they would go on trying to inspire young people through the issues of political uncertainty and the climate emergency. Though there are many young people throughout the UK and Europe getting involved in politics and activism, the fact is that a very large proportion of 18-25s simply don’t vote, and many of those are in communities which may feel the worst effects of the Brexit fallout.
Finally, when asked by activists on what they felt MEPs and pre-European citizens could do next, she stressed the importance of informal channels to build close relationships. Meanwhile, former MEPs would still have certain privileges such as entry to the EU parliament and certain events which would allow them to help British citizens in ways such as continuing to visit Parliament.
Meeting with Jane Brophy
Early in the afternoon, we had the opportunity to meet North West Liberal Democrat MEP Jane Brophy for a short catch-up, so I was able to talk to her, as well as a number of activists from Liverpool for Europe and Manchester for Europe, about the importance of continued free movement in the EU for the arts. We discussed how that will translate into documentation and issues at the border for artists travelling – especially when the onus is on artists to prove their professional credentials as the requirements may be too high for newer and emerging artists. Jane said that the EU is seeking reassurances on EU citizens living in Britain and British citizens in the EU, but no-one yet knows what the situation at borders will be like in the future – it certainly won’t be resolved in the next ten months.
Meeting with Theresa Griffin
NW Labour MEP Theresa Griffin definitely already understood the issues involved in the arts in the future, and was very sympathetic to the issues that I raised, as well as free movement for other industries such as healthcare. She spoke about the need to build pre-European grassroots movements, and also about how many MEPs from other countries have been really supportive, and are very glad to see pro-European Brits coming over to experience the European Parliament.
Meeting with Julie Ward
NW Labour MEP Julie Ward actually comes from an arts background, in particular working in outreach and with young people. She really understands the need for arts and culture to bring people together, to teach understanding, tolerances and good, positive citizenship, in particular finding ways for young people to carry on visiting other countries, learning from them and collaborating with them. She suggested that arts and cultural organisations in the UK should be making the effort to mark European culture in positive ways, such as Europe Day in May, or European Languages Day in September – creating events and initiatives which will carry on benefitting people both in the UK and abroad.
Overall, I feel like this turned out to be a positive day. All of the UK MEPs that we spoke to were clearly very despondent about current events, but seemed buoyed up by the support they have had from other countries. For my part, I’m glad I was able use this opportunity to speak about a very important part of the UK’s economy and society which isn’t being given due consideration by the UK government, and even if my words don’t have any individual effect, they might contribute to a greater whole.
Tomorrow morning, we’ll be meeting a German MEP, Terry Reintke, and hopefully I’ll be able to get her perspective on the EU Parliament’s view around continuing free movement. I’ll do another blog post after the meeting, and some more details on my overall experience of seeing European Union politics in action.
This sculpture is supposed to represent how the European Union works – each part leans on and is held up by another, and if one part moves, the whole structure would move.