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Opinion 'Our apathy is the single greatest tool that vicious political groups will seek to weaponise as we head into the European election'

So far Ireland has rejected the toxic political rhetoric of far-right nationalism and Euroscepticism – but elsewhere in Europe that populist dogma is spreading, writes Benjamin Moore.

THE UPCOMING EUROPEAN and local elections are set to provide an intriguing barometer of political sentiment across the country and throughout the EU.

Commentators and analysts of European politics identify a worrying trend, that those who ascribe to the positions of the political far-right will surely seek to exploit – voter apathy.

In Ireland, voter apathy is perhaps most poignantly manifested in European elections.

Looking at the figures for the 2014 European Parliament election, the Irish electorate managed a meagre turnout of 52%. That was in stark contrast to the voter turnout of 65% in the general election of 2016.

Although turnout for the EU Parliament elections in 2014 was disappointing, it was perhaps unsurprising. In Ireland, European elections have often been regarded with relative indifference when compared to national votes.

Matters of domestic policies tend to occupy the interests and concerns of those who wish to exercise their democratic right as free citizens.

Despite our traditional inertia for European elections, it is vital that in 2019 we approach them with earnestness as we gauge Ireland’s vision for the future direction of Europe and our integral participation in it – as well as playing our part in combating the more vicious and divisionary elements of European politics that have the potential to infect our national politics.

Ireland, now more than ever, requires a strong presence in Brussels to help combat the growing anxieties of a world on the verge of rejecting the international order and multilateralism of the liberal, post-World War Two era.

So far Ireland has fortunately managed to reject the toxic political rhetoric of far-right nationalism and Euroscepticism of the nature that led to Brexit, yet we continue to witness the growing vitality of alarming social and political sentiments in other European nations including France, the UK and Italy – where populist dogma continues to spread and blossom.

The behemoth of Brexit itself has been the ultimate realised manifestation of Eurosceptic ideals and thankfully calls for an “Irexit” have been met with very little enthusiasm.

As these ideologies continue to spread, there now exists a very real threat of populist parties gaining crucial momentum and emerging from the periphery of serious political consideration.

As those advocating for nationalism and isolationism seek to increase their visibility in the EU Parliament and influence the decision-making process of the supranational bloc, we in Ireland as European citizens have a civic responsibility to ensure that such an outcome does not come to fruition.

For the first time in these upcoming European elections, Irish voters are being offered the opportunity to select candidates with comparably extreme views.

While there is currently no indication that any of them will be elected, their very presence in the race for Europe should serve as a warning sign that this is not the time for us to be complacent.

In the battle for the cohesion of Europe, the political sin of apathy is what truly promises to shape the outcome of the next European elections, both in Ireland and across the European Union.

Apathy is the most dangerous tool that the far-right will seek to weaponise, in order to dismantle the political and economic union, that has been so beneficial to our small island and others in the integrated union of cooperating member states.

The temptation can exist to think that our vote does not matter in the cluster of Europe.

Although we present ourselves as a modest nation, Ireland must play its part in rejecting and de-platforming these political cynics and continue to uphold a decades-old institution that has been instrumental in stabilising a traditionally fractious continent.

We must rally and coalesce with our European partners, acting as a bulwark against dangerous trends such as the election of a populist US president and the calamity of Brexit events that have shaken the foundations of liberal democracy to its core.

Faith must not only be strengthened but restored in the European project.

Moving forward, Ireland’s duty should be to concurrently recognise the importance of parochial participation and international collaboration and help to ensure the continued existence of an international institution that helped us shape our economic and political independence from Britain before it is too late and the seeds of populism are planted in our young Republic.

Now more than ever, it is imperative that we in Ireland are cognisant of our big-picture responsibilities that affect not just our local town or constituency but also the ones of global importance that threaten to untangle the political, social, and economic fabric of Europe.

In this struggle, our apathy is the single greatest tool that vicious political groups will seek to weaponise as we head into the European elections and beyond.

Our indifference will be an endorsement of their legitimacy if we fail to show up on election day.

Benjamin Moore is a master’s graduate of International Relations from Dublin City University. His areas of interest and research include U.S. foreign policy and 20th-century American history, which he covers in his blog.

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