Who’s afraid of generation Europe? - Pt. 1

by Ellyn van Valkengoed

Almost all young voters (let’s say between 18 and 24) cried or felt like crying as the results of the Brexit referendum came in, according to a poll by the London School of Economics. We certainly had something to cry about: over 75% of young people who voted chose to remain with the EU, ultimately to no avail.

‘It is the end of one world, of the world as we know it’, wrote the Observer. ‘Nostalgic elderly Brexiteers have stolen my future,’ claimed Sara Abbasi for the Guardian. Thousands of protesters took to the streets of London. Un-fuck my future,  one banner read.

“Are You Watching This?”

As the news broke on the morning of the 24th of June, I texted my boyfriend in Essex while I slumped against the wall of my Leiden apartment, one eye on the television, like someone in a movie who's just received ‘the bad news’. Considering the angry mob outside Westminster and the rumoured impending suspension of cheap airline travel and imported camembert, this film might very well have been 28 Days Later.

‘Are you watching this?’ I wrote, still trying to process this upheaval of our shared future that had relied heavily on the Amsterdam-London connection.

‘I knew Brexit would happen,’ he replied. He was no stranger to the talk on factory floors and in the break rooms of call centers, since finding a job after graduation had been difficult for both of us.

Minutes later a text from a friend came in. ‘I guess you guys are going to have to get married now, huh? =)’


’Young people don’t vote, and certainly don’t cry’

Crocodile tears, Leave-campaigners would say, the dramatics of a generation too lazy to put down their smartphones and go to a voting station. After all, only 36% of under-25s managed to turn up on the day itself, Sky Data reported. Since young people couldn’t be bothered, they don’t have the right to complain.

There’s one problem: it turns out that that illustrious 36% that turned up in newspapers around the world is wrong. Sky took the number(s) from a poll taken at last year’s parliamentary election. It’s a convenient projection of what academic research shows: 'young people don't vote' and are only 'marginally involved in politics'. And no, they certainly don’t cry about elections.

But #Brexit confronts us with an alternate reality. While we can never be sure of the real numbers, polling by the London School of Economic (LSE) suggests turn-out might have been closer to 60-70%. These numbers match the outpouring of disappointment and anger on social media and on the streets, confirming that young people did in fact care.


Of course I don’t really expect Brexit to be the end of the world. And for now, at least, business has resumed as normal.  But there’s one thing that has changed: I have begun to wonder what Europe means to young people.

Coverage of Brexit demonstrates how casually the younger generations are dismissed, especially, even, when they are the ones who will live with this outcome the longest.

How strange to find their political opinions somehow less valid – in a time when even The Economist has young people pegged as ‘an oppressed minority’, in the sense that government policies around the world are systematically making it more difficult to achieve simple things like finding a job and buying a house. In the Netherlands, where I live, 75% of people in their early twenties are financially dependent on someone else.

I am young, hear me roar?' Nah. At the moment it’s more like 'generation Y always pays its debts'. 

So who’s afraid of this generation? At this point the answer is 'no one'. And certainly no one who holds a job through the voting booth, where decisions are still made.

 Source:  Garon S

Source: Garon S

It Sure Beats Millenial

But it’s not all misery. Brexit also makes me think we might have something unique going on. Afterwards, I saw all the posts on social media from friends and ex-fellow students, from outrage to wry commentary. I enjoyed the humour, the stories, the shared memories, all the connections made. Young people, who are now scattered from Seoul to Athens, yet most of us had once stood in line at ASDA self-service together or drank stale beer at Wetherspoons. These ties don’t easily break.

Could this generation be different from the ones before, simply by being more invested in the European project? And if there is such a thing as a European generation, what should we want out of our politics?

Breathing new life into our connections might be a start to dealing with political and democratic models that feel outdated to many of us, a way to improve our prospects, and maybe even an answer to the crippling negativity that seems to have seized the mood in many countries around Europe.

Sure enough, ‘European’ has never been complete as an identity, but it sure beats ‘millennial’.

In the following weeks and months, our ambassador Ellyn aims to further explore the questions she raised in this article:
Is our generation different than the previous European generations?
Are we more invested in the European project, and what do we actually want out of our politics?
How interconnected are we? And what is Europe actually?

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Cover photo credit - Garon S - Flickr