Young people today are more outward looking, more independent and more internationalist than ever before. A trip across the Pond or backpacking South East Asia is routine for many compared to the big adventure that was travelling all the way across the Channel on a rusty car ferry to Belgium when I was a 'restless teenager.' Beyond the international languages of English and technology the thirsts in our schools is for Mandarin and Arabic, not the declining European languages of French and German.
As the most powerful generation ever, today's young people can harness the influence of technology and digital communication to support campaign groups across the globe, forcing multinational companies to change their employment practices in developing countries or shaming distant regimes for their human rights abuses. They shop globally and debate globally.
To a young person setting up home today it appears incorrigible that when I was doing the same back in the 1980s I had no choice but to pay the Government for my electricity supply, gas, water, air tickets and telephone - often having to go on a long waiting list for the privilege of just getting connected. The large centralised structure that was Government had a say, and a controlling one, in so many aspects of our lives.
The successor to that central controlling structure today is the EU. A body that was fashioned against the backdrop of declining imperial powers, being replaced by trading blocs and artificial political alliances - the most notorious of which was the Soviet Union - was created at the height of the Cold War. It decides what is best for our environment, for our agricultural systems, our regulations for businesses, access to our energy resources, the size of the font on our chewing gum wrappers and most absurdly recently that tampons should be taxed as a luxury item! Individual governments are relatively powerless to make changes; the Commission and the 33,000 expanding and well paid workforce are unelected and largely unidentifiable so what hope can ordinary young people have to make a difference?
A third of the EU Budget is taken up with regional aid and cohesion fund to help poorer areas - only a small fraction of which benefits the UK. Alarmingly, if this is such an important and effective part of the EU, why is youth unemployment in Greece 52%, Spain 46% and Italy 37%? Indeed, a direct result of the constraints of the Euro imposed on some of the weaker Eurozone economies has been to undermine the life chances of young people. In Greece for example a fifth of pupils are educated in schools short of heating and lighting, whilst no school has been built or renovated since 2006.
In short, young people across the EU are paying the price of the failed Euro experiment. The EU is the world's only shrinking trading bloc - accounting for just 60% of the world's economy that it enjoyed back in 1990. Free movement of labour is a founding principle of the EU and has its advantages, but when there is such a disconnect between the economies of Eastern Europe and the UK the inevitable mass migration of people northwards (and we have just seen the latest figures revealing net migration here at 330,000 over the last year) impacts on the job opportunities of our young people.
The UK Government just cannot control EU migration therefore it is the non-EU migrants who are discriminated against in order to try to manage down the figures to sustainable levels. That means that a bright electrical engineer from India or a medic from the Philippines will often be passed over in favour of a second best equivalent who just happens to live in the EU. That is not fair for other people wanting to come here and does not help our own economy. It also lessens the opportunities for our own students wanting to study and work abroad beyond the EU, when we could have trading agreements with the growing economies of the world, particularly in South East Asia, and reciprocal arrangements to encourage mutual exchange. We only have to look at the new focus of US investment and defence policy which is much more geared to the Pacific Rim and away from the old Atlantic Alliances to see where the future lies.
One in 12 of the world's population is an Indian under the age of 28. That is where the future lies. Yet we cannot negotiate our own trade agreements with the great growing economies like India without the EU and they have just spent 9 years failing to negotiate an EU-India trade deal. What a wasted opportunity for our young people whose future may lie beyond fortress Europe or at least benefit from closer ties. Disgracefully the EU is not a free trade area but a protective customs union that imposes some of the highest tariffs on some of the world's poorest countries, who need trade with the West to lift themselves out of poverty.
This protectionist isolationism benefits the existing elites, who fear that the ingenious flair of new inventions, companies and services that our school leavers and graduates are creating might jeopardize their position. They therefore lobby to keep things more or less as they are. If we vote to leave we can unleash the amazing creative talents of our young people working up and down the country in new and exciting industries. We can reconnect with the rest of the world and do away with trade barriers with some of our closest businesses partners in the USA, Australia, India and the rest of the old Commonwealth, increasing wealth and opportunity for all.
We are constantly told about the learning opportunities that the EU has opened up. Try telling that to a UK student paying for tuition fees against an EU undergraduate who, in Scotland for example, can pay nothing. We just this week heard that more than 12,000 EU graduates studying in the UK have 'gone missing' after leaving British universities owing a total of £89m. That is £89m of UK taxpayers' money that could be helping to keep our fees down and courses open.
The Erasmus programme is often held up as a benefit to young people of being in the EU and without doubt it is a fantastic opportunity for students to study around the continent. However, what needs to be made absolutely clear, is that it is not an EU-only scheme; Macedonia, Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Turkey can fully take part in all Erasmus actions, whilst other European countries, including Russia, Moldova and Serbia, as well as others not even on the European continent, such as Israel and Egypt, can take part in aspects of the scheme. The UK, with its rich history in academia and cultural heritage with our continental neighbours, would almost certainly maintain its current Erasmus arrangements if we were to leave the EU. Indeed, the UK could well make it more attractive for students to travel abroad and provide secure and stable funding, which is something that the Erasmus programme currently does not have, particularly given attempts just last year to cut the Erasmus programme's funding in order to finance Jean-Claude Juncker's spending spree.
There has also been some scaremongering that current EU funding for youth services in the UK will disappear if we vote to leave on 23 June. Not surprisingly these fears have been raised by the very organisations that receive EU grants. The truth is that the money we receive from the EU is our own money simply recycled around the labyrinthine corridors in Brussels and then reallocated by some anonymous committee of Eurocrats. With this in mind, there is no reason that the UK government would not continue to fund schemes that it thought worthwhile with the £10 billion independence dividend of repatriated British taxpayers' money. Indeed, the newly independent UK could invest more into youth services, as well as in other worthy areas of public policy.
So for young people with their whole future ahead of them it must be increasingly obvious that a vote to remain in the EU is a step back into the past, shackling ourselves to a constrictive Big Brother Leviathan that is so odds with the freedoms, innovation and internationalism that young people take for granted today. A vote to Leave on 23 June is a vote to expand our horizon and reacquaint ourselves with the 6.9billion of the world's population who do not have the privilege of an EU passport.
Tim Loughton is the Conservative MP for East Worthing and Shoreham
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