Europeans Speak on the UK Referendum

Here’s why we spoke to young people across Europe on the possibility of Britain leaving the EU.

Today, Precarious Europe publishes “UK Referendum: European Voices”. See the map on our frontpage to access the feature.

 

We are now just a little bit more than a week before British voters are called upon to make a monumental decision. Stick with the union or take the UK out into the unknown?

It’s not an easy question. As we have recorded on Precarious Europe, the European Union has been undergoing severe strains these past few years.

Britain has struggled with questions of its own during the same period. As with most of the stories that we’ve followed over the years, the UK referendum itself is led by anxieties over austerity, immigration, democracy and over-arching generational tensions. This is once again evident in the age groups of people who wish to remain part of the union.

A recent YouGov/London Times poll captures this generational schism: 46% of voters have already declared for Remain. This group is made up of 75% of all those aged 18-24 in the UK and 50% of those who are between the ages of 25 and 49, but it only includes 38% of 50-64 year-olds and only 34% of the over 65’s.

I’m certain that if you break that middling group into 25 to 35 and 36 to 49, the differences will almost certainly be even more stark. Millenials, Generation Y, call us what you will, while in the forefront of many independence movements in Europe right now (in Scotland, Catalonia and elsewhere), feel significantly more attached to the freedoms and security that comes with the European Union. It’s no contradiction if these same young people are loud advocates of reform.

In Precarious Europe, we undertook an endeavour, to look across Europe for young voices that would begin to paint a picture of what the state of the union is. Twenty-two people answered our call from across the member states, as well as Serbia, Norway and Switzerland. These young people are not chosen to be ‘national representatives’: they have diverse backgrounds, careers, and opinions. Some are expats, some pro-EU, others against it.

But a broader picture started emerging while working on these interviews. Together they show that whatever each country believes separates it from the others, people are closer in their concerns and hopes for the future than is superficially evident. Left and Right, Brexiters and Czexiters, this is a European conversation that is happening right now in every country. The UK referendum is part of it.

It would be dispiriting to see it, as some commentators have, as a particularly British obsession. The questions about democracy, sovereignty, bureaucracy and reform of the union are out there. As the editorial team of a transnational website, we don’t wish to take up more of your time and energy ourselves. We encourage you to go ahead and read these eloquent European voices. We hope that you too see in them a reflection of your own countries and like us, the terms of the conversation that will shape the future of the European project.

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