‘The French are pro-EU – as long as it does what France wants’

Quentin Deschandelliers on a mission to educate the French about the inner workings of Brussels

EU institutions can seem impossibly complex so Quentin Deschandelliers aims to make them easy to understand for his audience
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France has always had a complicated relationship with the EU. It may be home to the European Parliament, but long before Brexit, French people were voting in 2005 to reject the ratification of an EU constitution.

Even now, as the country gears up to vote in the EU elections on June 9, getting people to take an interest can be a challenge. Now, one man is on an intrepid mission to change that. His secret weapon? Memes.

Quentin Deschandelliers, 35, is better known by his social media handle, mepassistant, which he adopted in 2013 while working as an assistant to a French MEP. When he began posting on Tumblr and Twitter (as it was then known) – mainly images and gifs – the idea was to lift the veil on EU institutions.

The Office

“People imagine that politics is like Game of Thrones or House of Cards. In practice, daily life in the institution is more like The Office,” he said.

Over the years, he amassed an impressive following within the EU bubble, but his ultimate goal is to reach people who might not be familiar with the inner workings of European politics.

Now working in Brussels as a lobbyist for the publishing industry, he has amassed some 41,000 followers on X where he regularly posts memes and unusual facts (see below). But since 2021, he has also streamed videos on his Twitch channel, in English and in French, where he interviews politicians, demystifies the institutions, and reviews the latest EU news, aimed at a mostly young audience.

“It’s about always trying to be innovative and thinking outside the box about how you can hook people,” he said. Come for the memes, stay for the politics.

He sees this as his contribution as a citizen. “I have expertise, and I grew up on the internet, so I know the codes. I’m trying to use this to share a passion, and share something that I think is of great importance.”

Euro-sceptics drink up fake anti-EU news while swimming in a sea of available facts of its benefits, says one of his memes on X

Lack of interest

It’s not an easy task. Only 47% of French people are interested in June’s elections, according to a recent survey by the European Parliament, although the same poll suggests 67% plan to vote. Of all 27 member states, the French are also the most likely to be pessimistic about the future of the EU.

Young people in particular can feel distanced from EU politics. According to another survey, by Ipsos in April, only a third of those aged 18 to 24 were certain of voting.

At the core of this ambivalence are the EU institutions, which can seem impossibly complex. “EU politics is no more complicated than national politics, it’s just that you hear about national politics every day, so you get used to it,” said Mr Deschandelliers.

He feels the French media could do a better job of making the EU a part of people’s daily lives, rather than an issue that comes up every five years at election time. This is a challenge across the continent, but it also stems from the French political culture, he argues.

“Basically, if it is not in Paris, it does not exist. Imagining a centre of power outside of Paris that would be as important or more important than what’s going on in the National Assembly is a bit heretical,” he said.

Europe is ‘mortal’

That is gradually changing. When Emmanuel Macron was first elected in 2017, he walked out to Ode to Joy, the European anthem, rather than the La Marseillaise, and he has continued to place Europe at the centre of his politics. As recently as April, he delivered a 108-minute speech on the EU at the Sorbonne, stressing that Europe is “mortal” and must be protected.

Other events, like the delivery of Covid vaccines, and Brexit before that, have also put Europe back on the agenda. “In France, very few parties now openly advocate leaving the EU, because people understand it’s not viable,” Mr Deschandelliers said.

Macron’s defence of the EU can also be understood in the context of a desire, dating back to Charles de Gaulle, to leverage cooperation to increase France’s standing in the world. “Whereas the UK saw the EU as competition to its own power and influence in the world, the French saw it as a new vector of power.”

Napoleonic Europe

This vision is largely shared by ordinary people, which can also create suspicion in other parts of Europe as to France’s true intentions, said Mr Deschandelliers. “[French people] have what I call the complex of Napoleonic Europe, in the sense that Europe is great, as long as it does exactly what France wants.”

He also notes progress in the way EU institutions reach out to young people, using memes and social media in general. “I hope that I contributed to that a bit as well, in making them less afraid of being less conventional in their way of communicating,” he said.

Another milestone was the 2020 release of the TV show Parlement. Currently shooting its fourth season, the Franco-German-Belgian production follows the life of Samy, a young French parliamentary assistant who arrives in Brussels immediately after the Brexit referendum.


“Even though it’s a comedy, it does a very good job of introducing EU concepts that are not very common in French politics,” he said. “Now when I do Twitch content and I interview MEPs, if it’s in French, there will always be someone who asks if it’s like in Parlement.”

It is one of the few cultural productions that explore what it means to be European. “You can do all the political speeches you want, but in the end, if you want people to really embrace the topic and make it part of their identity, you have to do it through culture,” said Mr Deschandelliers.

For the Essonne native, it was the 2002 French film L'Auberge espagnole, about a French student who spends an Erasmus year in Barcelona, that turned him into a European. “I was a teenager and thought, I have no idea what this is, but I want it,” he said.

So is he optimistic that the trend will continue, and younger generations will take an interest in the European Union? “I have to be,” he said. “If I was not optimistic, I would not do what I do.”