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Europe at a crossroads: may the young represent the compass to resume the journey

The referendum of June 23 has sanctioned, albeit by a hair's breadth, British people’s intention to leave the EU. While negotiations to "separate" the island from the rest of the continent are already under way, the first relapses are being assessed, and there are questions regarding the actual scope of the historic decision, probably taken without full knowledge of all its consequences. Especially striking is the difference in opinion between the British youth, mostly pro-Remain, and people of advanced age who turned their backs to the "common home.” Is it a choice that looks to the future?

Which Europe? Where? Why? In all likelihood these questions are reverberating in the minds of many British citizens – the victorious “leave” and the defeated “remain” campaigners alike.
 In fact, it appears that their knowledge of Europe (understood as the European Union, that includes its history, treaties, institutions, powers, regulations, actions, budget, etc.) is rather poor. Every opinion poll conducted in acceding countries has revealed scarce knowledge of this complex political and economic process. For EU citizens the “common home” – presently not much loved by Europeans – is a perfect stranger. Although in conversations with friends or in various forums, self-described “experts on Europe” are multiplying: they argue, judge, reach conclusions …

Populism also feeds on lack of knowledge and quick judgement. It became evident during the campaign for the British referendum of June 23.

An indirect, concrete – albeit not scientific – confirmation comes from Google, with a record-breaking number of searches immediately after the outcomes of the referendum. The most popular online search by citizens of London, as of Manchester, along with the Welsh, Scottish or Northern Irish, consisted in the following questions: What is the European Union? Which countries form part of the EU? What are the implications of leaving the EU? It’s always important to be informed. It opens up new prospects for knowledge and personal growth. But in the case of a popular vote information should be sought before, and not after, the final results. The impression is that the British, or at least most of them, have expressed their yes or no to Europe without being fully conscious of the matter at stake, that is, not knowing what they were voting, nor its consequences. The litmus test came at this very hour: the petition to the British Parliament asking to repeat the referendum was endorsed with millions of signatures.

But politics is no joke, nor can it be a knowledge-test.

Voting has always been a conquest (at a high price in many cases throughout the course of history) that entails the democratic right corresponding to a “responsible citizenship duty.” It is necessary to be educated and educate oneself to democracy. Not only. The sense of responsibility expressed in the ballot box must raise questions on our contemporary societies (what are the interests at stake? What are the consequences of individual and collective choices?), along with reflections on future impacts. The analysis of the British vote clearly showed that young people have voted to remain in the EU, while the older generation opted for Brexit. Now the question is,

Did over-60 voters think about their offspring when they decided to reinstate the United Kingdom’s isolationism?

 Did they ask themselves whether by the year 2030-2050 the British peoples’ demands would be answered by closing national borders? If the world should proceed in the direction of greater interrelation and interdependence would it not be better to ensure the development of a solid, open Europe, “united in diversity”, capable of playing a major role on the global stage? Rhetoric for the young has endless streams that include platitudes on “making room for young people.” But to help them have a proper education, find a job, and build a family, young people should be placed at the centre of major decisions taken at national and international levels. Perhaps in the next elections – wherever they will be held – it would best if over-65 voters sought guidance before casting a vote involving their children and grandchildren! Finally. Europe is in turmoil for post-Brexit consequences, while market instability keeps everyone with bated breath. Prime Minister David Cameron has announced his resignation, so has EU Commissioner for Financial Services, Jonathan Hill. It’s the Day of Reckoning for the UK’s traditional political parties, while the winner, UK Independence Party (UKIP), now appears unable to bring to fruition the victory, and its leader, Nigel Farage, is falling into an embarrassing set of contradictions (is it permissible to ask, among other things: if – consistently with his stand – he will also leave his chair and his salary in the European Parliament?).  Scotland has already announced a referendum for independence from London … Countless informal meetings, diplomatic negotiations, official meetings (European Council, European parliament) are being planned in Brussels and in other European capital cities.

The UK’s exit is being discussed amidst reflection and acceleration, along with a strategy to save EU-27.

“Nobody will be allowed to steal Europe from us!” exclaimed Foreign German Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Now what’s most is important is that British authorities view the future with sense of responsibility, bearing in mind the young faces that will become tomorrow’s Europe.

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