19/11/2015 05:31 GMT | Updated 19/11/2016 05:12 GMT

As Young People, We Must Fight for the Europe of the Future

Last night, a huge victory was won in Parliament: peers in the House of Lords voted to allow 16- and 17-year-olds a vote in the upcoming referendum on Britain's membership of the EU. This isn't just a victory for the 1.5million young people who will - if, as looks likely, these changes are accepted by the Commons - have a voice in this momentous decision; it's a victory for democracy. A widening of the franchise doesn't only make for a more conclusive settlement, it enriches the debate.

What's vital now is that young people use our voice to fight for Britain's place in Europe. We know how vast the benefits of membership are; how powerful a union the EU really is. There's a danger, though, that in the coming months this will get lost among arguments about business and finance, and scaremongering over migration. But there is a case which must be made about the radical possibilities of the EU, and a vision for Europe which Britain's youth can rally around.

Europe's youth and students have a proud tradition of solidarity and protest; for nearly half a century we have been sharing culture, ideas and struggles with comrades across our continent through the freedom to live, work and learn abroad. In the late 1960s, a cultural revolution spread across Europe as students in France, Italy, Germany and elsewhere united to protest against war and oppression. Activists today continue that tradition - this December, for example, many Young Greens will be travelling to Paris for the COP21 climate talks, to put pressure on governments to take the necessary action on climate change.

These actions demonstrate the vital nature of uniting across our continent to address the borderless challenges presented by the dominance of global corporations, the climate crisis, and the erosion of workers' rights.

And if we want to build the kind of future we want to live in - one where people have more power than big businesses, we're protected from the dominance of global capitalism, and where we can take meaningful action on issues like climate change and the refugee crisis, there is one solution: the European Union.

This summer, as the numbers of refugees dying in their attempts to reach safety in European countries soared, we saw the horrific consequences of failing to act multilaterally - and with governments like ours shying away from taking the action needed, it has become clear that the only fair and compassionate way forward is to implement a binding and effective Europe-wide system for the redistribution of refugees across the continent.

Similarly, the approach of the COP21 climate talks this December highlights the urgent need for countries to work together on environmental issues to protect our shared future, and the vital role that the EU has played in the past in making this happen. The UK is already shamefully lagging behind other European nations in our production of renewable energy, but our membership of the EU forces our government, at least, to take some of the most basic steps necessary to reducing our emissions. And in the unique political union that is Europe there is the potential to do so much more - set more ambitious targets and better support states in meeting them; facilitate the sharing of best practise for decarbonisation; and invest in a continent-wide renewable energy infrastructure.

It's not only climate change that the EU can help us fight against. With multinational corporations becoming ever more dominant, it's absolutely vital that we are able to work across borders to keep the powers of global capitalism in check. Keeping workers' rights legislation strong all across Europe prevents a dangerous race-to-the-bottom in working conditions, and Europe-wide regulation of the financial sector is badly needed to reduce the risks in banking. Here too, we could and must go even further, with tougher rules on tax evasion, and a Europe-wide financial transactions tax to curb risky financial trading.

It's true that the Europe we have now is not nearly radical, progressive or democratic enough. It is currently dominated by governments like ours, who pursue damaging international trade deals, leave environmental concerns by the wayside, and try to water down workers' rights legislation - and this clearly has an impact on the political direction it takes.

We've all been appalled in recent months by the brutal treatment Greece has received, and the disturbed by the potential consequences of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. But we do nothing for countries like Greece by turning our back on them, and leaving the EU would not save us from trade deals like TTIP.

Instead, we must add our energy to the movement growing across Europe, fighting for change. Something is happening all across the continent, with youth at its heart - and we'd be fools not to want to be a part of it.

So as young people we must make our voices heard in this referendum. This vote is not only a huge choice that will affect our entire future, it's a chance to fight for the kind of Europe we want to see: one that uses its cross-border jurisdiction to curb the excesses of free-market capitalism, empower local communities, and ultimately, in a world where borders are becoming increasingly irrelevant, build 21st Century solutions to 21st Century problems.

Hannah Clare is co-chair of the Young Greens