What do Spongebob, Pokémon and a couple in bed have to do with the EU? Three students have set up a Facebook page to counter anti-EU populism.
Populist movements against the European community seem to be omnipresent at the moment – three students did not want to put up with these anymore: “It doesn’t help if you are always against something. Especially our generation should stand up for what is important to us”, says 20-year-old Benedikt Kau. Together with Hans-Christoph Schlüter (22) and Mirko Moser-Abt (24) he has set up the Facebook page “WhyEurope”. With simple messages, memes and pictures they intend to show why the EU or any form of European community matters. “There are many intellectual debates in favour of the EU that might be difficult to follow. We use similar methods as the anti-EU populists: Simple, appealing and attention-seeking messages”, says Hans-Christoph: “However, we can support our statements with facts and want to start an actual discussion” adds Mirko.
Humorous but not substantial?
To draw attention they do not shy away from phrases such as: “Europe because… Pokémon don’t stop at borders” alluding to the popular Pokémon go game or from showing a couple in bed together with the caption: “Europe because… we all have better things to do than waiting at borders.” This also sparks criticism. One Facebook user writes: “This side does not provide the arguments I wished for to convince EU-critics. It is too shallow.” The three “WhyEurope”-founders encourage critique and feedback, they say. At the same time they refer to the sites providing substantial argumentation and ask why the Pro-EU side is not allowed to be humorous, simple and emotional as well.
Let’s do it together
The three students emphasise that they do not believe the EU is perfect as it is. It is their intention to make their readers think about the present and future of the European community. Their motto: “Let us question. Let us debate. Let us reform. But let’s do it together.” According to the three young EU-advocats, there are too many people sharing the sentiment that the EU does not have any positive influences on their everyday lives. “While working on the page, I was surprised to learn in how many ways the EU actually affects us”, says Benedikt: “We don’t know how life would be without the EU, we just take it for granted.” One post states for example: “Europe because… we know war from movies only.”
“Europe is at a turning point”
The main trigger for starting the project was the Brexit referendum. The page went online one month later. “We felt Europe is at a turning point”, says Hans-Christoph: “but we think overall there is a silent majority in favour of Europe, at least in our generation.” 500 Facebook users liked the site already in the first week. The likes have since more than doubled and some posts reach as many as 11,300 people on Facebook. Maintaining the site is fun although it is very time consuming, the three students say. “We encourage anybody who wants to contribute”, Hans-Christoph says: “videos would be nice.” The three friends started up the site together in Freiburg, Germany, where they were all studying. Now they are spread all over Germany and the Netherlands for Erasmus and Master’s programmes. They are used to organising group work online as they got to know each other working in a student consulting project. “We don’t know how the site will develop. But a Facebook page is flexible. We see what works and can improve the issues that don’t”, Benedikt says. He majors in Life Sciences and is used to experiments. Economics-student Hans-Christoph explains: “Our aim is not to make money. That would not be possible anyway, I think.” Mirko, who studies political sciences, adds: “Furthermore, we are not affiliated to any political party. We do not want to be a political organisation but rather a Think Tank.” Their main motivation, they say, is to focus on the benefits every European gains from cooperation. They argue: “We’re the generation that has to live with the decisions taken today.”
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