What is the future of British young people in Europe post-Brexit?
I, like tens of thousands of young Brits before me, participated in the Erasmus programme as part of my studies. After graduating from University last summer, I have since begun working as a Volunteer in the European Voluntary Service in Croatia. I could write pages about how these experiences, first in Paris and now in Pula, have shaped me as a person; how they have given me the career direction I was lacking before I moved abroad; about all the wonderful people I have met from all over Europe- but my story is not a unique one. The Erasmus and EVS programmes boast extraordinarily high satisfaction rates. They have been proven to improve career prospects, boost job mobility, and broaden the horizons of those who take part, all the while fostering a wider-scale pan-European identity.
I, like over 70% of 18-30 year olds in Great Britain, voted to remain in the European Union. With Britain’s formal withdrawal from the EU just around the corner, we now must ask ourselves- what is the future for young Britons in Europe post-Brexit? Are we going to deny the next generation these opportunities to discover new places, new people and new languages on the basis of a vote that many of them were not even old enough to cast? Are we going to strip the current generation of young people in Britain of a European citizenship and identity that they voted overwhelmingly in favour of?
Programmes such as Erasmus, which turned 30 this year, have been instrumental in creating a strong and collaborative Europe, with outward-looking, engaged, and- increasingly importantly in today’s climate- tolerant citizens. This has not gone unnoticed by Europeers UK, a network of Britons aged 16-25 that have previously participated in Erasmus or EVS. The organisation recently launched the #keeperasmusplus campaign to put pressure on the UK government to keep our involvement in European Youth projects, in spite of Brexit. Universities in the UK, who fear the academic consequences of political isolation, have also urged the government to safeguard UK access to what they describe as a ‘valuable exchange programme’.
Yet the battle is far from over. Thus far the only response from the government is a noncommittal statement that “the UK’s future access to the Erasmus+ programme will be determined as a part of wider discussions with the EU.” It is crucial that British young people make our voice heard during this critical period of Brexit negotiations. The ‘Erasmus Generation’, who have enjoyed having Europe at their fingertips, must fight to make sure the opportunities which have enhanced the lives of so many are not closed to future generations. At the same time, we must continue to reach out to Europe, to make connections, learn languages and exchange ideas, and ensure that the Europe of the future is one that young are still part of.
EVS Volunteer in Rojc, Pula