The EU Isn't Perfect, But We Can't Risk Young People Being Locked Out of Europe

10/06/2016 16:50

young voter

Speaking at a remain rally last weekend I was told that young people shouldn't be allowed to vote in this referendum because young people can't be trusted to know what's best for them, and that the older generation should make decisions for us.

Well, we've seen where that approach has got us so far, high student debts, an unaffordable property market, an NHS being cut up and sold off and the likelihood of a comfortable (or any) retirement slipping away fast. There have been some pretty appalling decisions made on our behalf over recent years and we cannot sit back and let a decision of this scale be made without us.

At the start of this referendum campaign I was sure that we would not be drawing lines in the sand because of age, yet sadly this seems to be the case. With leave taking the lead this week, and a breakdown of voting ages showing that the over 60s are 65% more likely to leave the EU whereas 73% of 18 - 29 year olds want to stay. For many of us we have a much more open relationship with Europe and the EU than our parents and grandparents. We are more likely to travel, taking for granted cheap flights across the continent and easy access into other EU countries, our class mates come from across the EU studying on Erasmus programmes and for some of us our entire region has received millions of EU funding to tackle poverty and rural deprivation.

For me, being part of the EU means taking an active role in Europe. Caring about what happens to our neighbours, working collaboratively to get things done such as fighting climate change and building relationships that foster peace and not conflict.

Being in the EU means our colleges and universities are diverse. We learn from academics and peers from across Europe and beyond, our research is collaborative and our learning opportunities are broad. When we finish college, an apprenticeship or university we don't expect to work in the same role at the same place for the rest of our lives. For some of us we expect our jobs to take us across Europe due to partnerships and businesses forged out of the EU; and we're not scared of this. It's exciting. The opportunity to be outward looking, to see things improve not just for ourselves but for our European community. This sense of being part of something greater than ourselves, that doesn't just fuel self-interest but works on the values of collectivism and collaboration, of discussion and dialogue is what excites me about being part of the EU because they are values that are shared by my own organisation.

When we attend European Students' Union events to develop policy with our international peers on what education should look like across Europe, that's when I'm proud to be in the EU. And students see the benefit of this. Up and down the country students' unions including Sheffield College, Royal Holloway and Barrow Sixth Form have been holding vibrant debates on what Brexit would mean for students and young people. For some unions, finding an external speaker to talk on behalf of leave has been difficult because the leave campaign know that their inward looking small island mentality just doesn't stick with students today.

I'm not going to pretend that the EU is perfect. Like all organisations there is more that could be done to make it transparent and effective, but I want to make it perfectly clear that for every student voting in this referendum on 23 June this should not be our only interaction with the EU. It must be the start of a lifetime long relationship where we lobby our MEPs the same way we lobby our local MPs. We need to scrutinise and get vocal about policy and we need to build alliances with likeminded people across the continent. And above all we need to demand citizenship education in our schools, colleges and youth clubs that talks to us about the importance of the EU, what it does and how it makes decisions because young people are not apathetic, they have just been locked out of our political system; and I don't want us to be locked out of the EU.

So please get out and vote on 23 June because no matter what people tell us, as young people we do know what's good for us.

HuffPost UK Young Voices is running a fortnight-long focus on the EU Referendum, examining what is at stake for Britain's young people on 23 June and why it's imperative you register to vote and have your say. If you want to have your say and blog on our platform around this topic, email Register to vote here.