October 27, 2016
Brexit is a shock, but one which the European Union can recover from. Hope rests above all in a first ‘European’ generation which has grown up experiencing the benefits of integration and membership. This group will decide the EU’s future direction, if it can overcome its frustration.
By Michael Cottakis, President of the 1989 Generation Initiative
(This article originally appeared on EurActiv.gr as well as in Greek daily “Estia” on October 15)
Support for the EU is highest amongst Europe’s young. This is, perhaps, unsurprising. After all, we are talking about the Erasmus or EasyJet generation of cheap travel and study abroad; the first in Europe’s history to grow up without the imminent threat of war. With a growing number of this group feeling themselves to be “European”, there are inklings amongst the youth of an emerging transnational citizenship.
Yet whilst 75% of Britons under the age of 35 voted to Remain in the EU during the recent referendum, stats show that only 40% turned up to vote. This attests to an increasing disinterest and frustration amongst the European youth, deriving partly from the failure of the EU (and its member states) to contain the damaging effects of the Eurozone and refugee crises; but also from a sense of hopelessness – that their ideas are brushed aside, and their concerns ignored.
In the years since 2008, young Europeans, and particularly, young Greeks have suffered more than most. However, now is not the time for disengagement. Young Europeans must turn their frustration into ambition, instigating a new democratic European system that works better for all its members. The 1989 Generation Initiative emerged out of this thinking. Founded in London in 2015, its aim is to ‘regenerate’ Europe through the ideas and actions of its younger citizens. Its reaction to Brexit has since been to open four new offices in separate European countries.
The politics of the western world appear to be at a critical juncture. The once assured liberal international consensus has been eroded, with new political battle lines drawn. In Europe this is expressed in the tussle between Europeanists and nationalists. It is a battle that will likely define the next decade. With young Europeans forming a central component of this first group, their efforts will be crucial. But before this battle can be fought and won, leaders will need to ensure the EU’s immediate survival.
There will be wide-ranging consequences for the EU if Brexit is not managed correctly. Across the continent, anti-European forces will pounce on any perceived weakness in negotiations with the UK, and demand similar arrangements back home. Strength and unity will be required to conclude a fair deal for the UK, but also one that disincentivises other EU countries from following its lead.
In the longer term, a formal, pan-European conversation involving politicians and electorates must form the basis of a ‘Traité Refondateur’, containing a revised set of objectives and institutional competences for the EU. As the generation of Europe’s future, the young should be the driving force this debate.
With the 60th Anniversary of the Rome Treaty fast approaching, and a fundamental redefinition of our common European future at no point more necessary, now might represent an opportune moment to outline plans for this initiative.