EUROPE is a generational issue. Older people may struggle to think of themselves as European, even those who don’t still think they are stuck in the last war, but under-25s have grown up in a quite different world.
To them, travelling to and throughout Europe is perfectly natural. So is eating continental food and, particularly, meeting young people from other European nations. They have been taught in litres, metres and kilos.
So, in theory, there should not be the same antagonism to the EU as there is among much of their parents’ generation – and, even more so, their grandparents’.
Yet, despite all that, there is still an underlying lack of acceptance of “Europe”. There is a disconnect between their experience and lifestyle, and their view of the EU.
This has been lucidly set out in an insightful article by Tom Wylie, former chief executive of the National Youth Agency, in the magazine Children & Young People Now. It is headlined: “Europe should excite our young.”
He cites three reasons for young people’s attitude to Europe. First, the failure to properly teach them the continent’s history. Schools focus on the causes of the First World War and the rise and fall of Hitler, he says, without dealing with the broader history of Germany in the 20th century, “never mind that of Europe as a whole.”
Secondly, Mr Wylie thinks young people may consider travelling to Europe lacks the romance it held for previous generations. And, thirdly, that European political institutions appear particularly dull and complicated, while the British media fosters hostility to them.
Tom Wylie believes that Peter Mandelson, himself once chair of the British Youth Council, should encourage this country’s young people to engage in today’s European youth structures.
He concludes: “It is imperative to begin to repair the lack of engagement in the wider Europe, by and for all our young people.”
This important article deserves a wider audience. If we cannot interest and involve even our young people in Europe, there is not much hope for this nation’s future.