Why young people need to start talking about Europe
As David Cameron’s renegotiations come to a close, the debate on Britain’s membership of the EU is starting to begin in earnest. Disappointingly – if not surprisingly – the debate so far has focused only on issues of migration and economics, with the ‘remain’ and ‘leave’ camps trading facts, figures and counterfacts dry enough to turn anyone off the issue and competing to produce ever greater – and less credible – scare stories. These of course are key issues, touching the lives of many people both in Britain and across Europe, but the narrow and overwhelmingly negative nature of the debate so far risks alienating the group for whom this referendum is perhaps most crucial: young people.
The voice of my generation has been regrettably silent on Europe in the past weeks and months – despite the fact that this vote will affect us for the rest of our lives. I believe the government did a great disservice to youth engagement with politics in general and the Europe question specifically when they denied 16- and 17-year-olds the chance to have a say in this referendum – but that makes it even more important that all young people – of voting age and not – engage with this referendum and make our voices heard in every way we can, not just at the ballot box. If we let this debate happen without us, we risk Britain being driven out of Europe by those who scaremonger about immigration and pander to xenophobic nationalism and brush aside some of the key issues of our EU membership.
Being a part of Europe brings huge benefits for Britain’s youth and student population. Last academic year, over 15,000 students from the UK studied abroad using the Erasmus programme – up 115% since 2007. This cultural exchange gives students invaluable foreign language skills as well as gaining insight and understanding of our European neighbors. The EU also provides billions in funding for research in British universities, opening up opportunities for further study for students here, in addition to funding that allows postgraduates from across Europe to come to study and carry out research alongside their British colleagues. The EU is a powerhouse of scientific innovation, currently producing 34% more scientific output than the US, and the UK participates in more projects within the EU’s €80bn Horizon science programme than any other nation – as is clear from the broad-based and enthusiastic support for groups like Scientists for EU, Students for Europe and Universities for Europe, our membership of the EU helps British universities to thrive.
It’s not just students who benefit from the EU – we are all protected by European workers’ rights legislation, such as the 48-hour week and set holiday entitlement, and equalities legislation which protect all employees from workplace discrimination. Students and young workers are covered by maternity rights which are enshrined in EU law, ensuring that mothers are able to take time off work or study to care for their children. Crucially, while the Tory government attempts to dismantle the green economy, the EU provides funding for renewable energy which creates much needed green jobs here in the UK.
But this debate isn’t just the benefits of EU membership to young people now. It’s about the future we want to build. As part of Europe, we can take real transnational action on climate change to protect our shared future; we can work across borders to find compassionate and practical solutions to the refugee crisis; we can challenge the dominance of large corporations and put the rights of people above the demands of big business. It’s clear that the EU isn’t perfect – much like Westminster, it’s not democratic or accountable enough. But we’re fighting to change that, with strong Green voices in the European Parliament, and only by staying in can we continue that fight and bring about real change.
This week, Another Europe is Possible launches – a grassroots campaign to stay in, and work with progressive movements across the continent build a more democratic Europe instead of walking away. A new conversation is emerging: one which is about the future of Europe we want to see, and how we get there – not how many migrants to allow into the country each year. In the coming weeks and months it’s vital that at the centre of this conversation are the people who will be the ones to make it happen – my generation.