Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sunday of protest in 40 cities to show growth of pro-EU movement



Thousands of European citizens will take to the streets of more than 40 cities across the continent on Sunday to voice their support for the EU, determined to highlight their common values before elections in the Netherlands and France and after the Brexit vote in the UK.


The Pulse of Europe movement, which was founded by a Frankfurt lawyer and describes itself as a non-partisan citizens’ initiative, is expected to draw up to 15,000 supporters from Amsterdam to Wiesbaden this weekend.

In Germany, 35 cities are participating, along with five in France, as well as Amsterdam, Brussels, and Bath in the UK.

“There has to be a pro-European signal from the centre of our societies,” said Daniel Röder, the movement’s founder. 

“There are a lot of people on this continent who may have a healthy dose of scepticism towards many aspects of how the EU works, but are broadly in favour of the European project. 

We are the real silent majority. 

And the only way to get that point across seems to be to take to the streets.”

Röder said his inspiration had come from the protests after the Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump in the US. 

“They were great, but it was just a shame they happened after the event,” he said.

About 2,500 people turned up at Frankfurt’s rally last Sunday. 

The organisers are expecting more to attend this week, before the elections in the Netherlands on Wednesday.

In Bath, the only UK cityinvolved so far, 250 people attended last week’s Pulse of Europe march, which started at the Abbey churchyard and made its way along the high street, with campaigners dressed in rah-rah skirts and berets in the blue and yellow colours of the EU.

Jay Risbridger, the organiser, said more marchers were expected this Sunday. 

“Those who came out did so because of the need to be visible and not to sleepwalk into leaving the EU,” said Risbridger, who ran Bath and North East Somerset’s remain campaign.

“We want there to be much more debate ahead of such a momentous decision and we recognise that one of the reasons we lost the referendum is that those of us who appreciate the EU didn’t make our views public enough, so now we’re trying to catch up.”

Risbridger said the march in Bath was being seen as something of a dress rehearsal for the Unite for Europe march on 25 March when thousands of anti-Brexit protesters are expected to gather in London.

Whether Pulse of Europe has enough momentum to turn into a long-term campaign that could wield influence in the debate about the EU’s future remains to be seen.

But it has grown from a single-city event in February to one hosted across Europe, albeit mainly in Germany. 

The organisers have pledged to hold weekly rallies to raise awareness about the EU until after the French presidential elections, recognising that the outcomes of the polls in France and the Netherlands have the potential to unalterably change the EU. 

There are fears the far-right populists Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen could be given a mandate to carry out their election promises to take their respective countries out of the EU.

Malte Steuber, 27, a law student and an organiser of a rally in the western German city of Münster on Sunday told the Westfälische Nachrichten newspaper: “If we’re talking about saving the European idea, it’s not five minutes to midnight, it’s three minutes to midnight.”

Supporters of the EU have been invited to gather in front of the city’s historic town hall on Prinzipalmarkt square and to bring EU flags, balloons and banners, as well as to wear orange in a nod to the Dutch. 

“We want to send out a positive signal for a democratic, constitutional and united Europe and to show unity with the pro-European voices in other countries in Europe,” Steuber said.

His frustration had been sparked by the growing number of anti-EU parties “who claim to represent the silent majority. 

We want to show with our rallies that that just is not true.”


Marie-Luise Glahr, an organiser of Potsdam’s Pulse of Europe event, said in speech to supporters last Sunday: “It’s important to stand up for the values like the rule of law, freedom and respect for human dignity now, and not wait like the British and Americans until after the event.”

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