Millennials Are Citizens of Europe in a Way Our Parents Never Were - We Must Vote to Remain

22/02/2016 17:13 GMT | Updated 22/02/2017 10:12 GMT

Around their dinner tables, some Germans jokingly refer to us Brits as the 'extrawurst' - or, extra sausage. It's their odd way of describing the impression we have on the continent: as people who always want a bit more than everyone else gets.

When I was first told of this Deutsch idiom it struck me as strange to think that many English people I know just wouldn't care. The fact that most Brits remain utterly unconcerned with the way we're viewed on the continent, at a time when we'll soon be making a huge call on whether to stay in the EU or not, is very worrying.

David Cameron's renegotiation is a busted flush - a gamble that didn't really pay off. It is, at best, clarity on some relatively important details, and at worst, simply quibbling over inconsequential ones. But that alone is an awful reason to want to leave. The focus of the debate should be on big ideas, like comradeship, collaboration, and a shared future.

Instead it has so far been dominated by this failed diplomatic mission and in coming months will likely be fought on two fronts: movement of people (immigration and the refugee crisis) and the economy.

The economic ramifications of a Brexit are incredibly hard to predict, given that a divorce between nations of this kind has never been tried before.

And on migration, the dual fears that people from eastern Europe hog jobs and put unmanageable strain on our public services; and that those on a longer trajectory from the Africa and the Middle East could come here to blow us up, strike me as arguments advocating fear alone as the driving force behind our foreign policy. Something I can't condone.

And anyway, all the areas currently being discussed are ignoring what should be a crucial factor in our decision - and that is one of identity.

We are not just failing to consider how our decision will be received in Europe - or even what kind of message we want to send - we are fundamentally failing to think about who we want to be.

It's a question of whether we want to let Europe know we'll work with them on the big issues facing the world, or whether to send a clear signal that we're better off alone. And there is a huge generational gap between the two positions.

The millennials of this country are citizens of Europe in a way that our parents never were.

Easy availability of cheap flights across Europe, coupled with the transformational effect of social media, have meant many now count mainland Europeans as close friends. People with whom they interact as much as they do with friends who live in the same city. I know this is true for me as it is many people I know.

This generation has no reason to sour what looks and feels like a successful, functioning relationship.

Indeed, we have real emotional and aspirational reasons for wanting to remain. The idea that anyone can up sticks and move to Rome, Berlin or Barcelona at a moment's notice is one to cherish. We may still have these opportunities in the event of a Brexit, but we may not.

Either way, it feels somewhat myopic that we rarely ever consider the idea that people might - shock, horror! - feel like migrating away from these rainy shores.

Recent YouGov stats reflect this pro-European feeling amongst the younger generation. Just 25% of 18-24 year-olds want to leave the EU, rising to 31% among 25-39 year-olds. But when you look at the over-60s, 58% want out.

Now, as any politician worth their salt will tell you, it is this oldest demographic that tends to vote in far greater numbers than the youth.

This means we face a very real possibility of a conservative older generation sending out a message of sour isolationism to generation Y's friends, colleagues and comrades across the channel.

Is this any way to behave? These are unprecedented times for humanity. The technological explosion will have a greater effect on the way we live than any revolution in human history - and those best equipped to cope, and to advance humankind, are those who understand the interconnected world as it is, and who are prepared to cooperate in order to achieve things.

So when we decide on how to vote, on whether to leave or remain, let us be bound not just by the economic implications of our choice, nor only by fears about immigration, but let us consider the statement we are making to our neighbours and the impact it could have on our relationships with them. And let us send a message to the continent and wider world that we extrawursts are proud to be Europeans, too.