Prof. Dr. Melanie Sully

Brexit: the lost generation by Melanie Sully

Article in the Wiener Zeitung, 20.7. 2016 and reproduced in Euractiv 20.7. 2016

Brexit: The Lost Generation from the German "Die verlorene britische Generation" Melanie Sully, Wiener Zeitung 20.7. 2016

Research conducted immediately after the UK referendum on EU membership purported to say that youth simply did not turn out and felt let down by the older generation. However more precise later data (from the London School of Economics) shows this to be untrue. Youth did turn out in relatively high numbers. They were engaged and took part in the TV debates. Interestingly turn-out was below average in Scotland which voted to remain in the EU illustrating the complexity of the vote.

Scotland like Wales and Northern Ireland had officially implored David Cameron not to hold the vote in June just before the school holidays and in the middle of exam time for many students. Confusion on the registration system for young people especially students ended with a last minute rush to sign up to vote. Additionally the Glastonbury Festival, popular amongst the young, took place on the day of the referendum where there was no polling station.

But if it is true that the appeal of the EU is connected to a peace project, how come that generation closest to the last war is unimpressed? And why should the 55 plus group with possibly 30 years before them not think of their own future. The right to exercise the vote cannot be linked with notions of fictitious social solidarity. Many of this generation incidentally are paying fees to support university education of younger members of the family. Many face the prospect of ending their years alone in homes for the elderly because the young take up roots elsewhere or have no time. And possibly many voted for Brexit because they genuinely felt that in the long run it could be beneficial for future generations. On that one we will have to wait and see.

In any case if there is a generation gap what is the solution? More projects for youth offer one way forward. But if the older generation is disaffected it may make sense to tackle this deficit. And if non-graduates find the EU a turn-off, it would be sensible to offer them hope too for the future. The solutions have to be more targeted to the problem for effect.

Polls show us since the referendum there is a rise in those seemingly supporting the EU as for example in Germany. But this is based more on fear of the negative consequences of leaving as is evident so far with Brexit. The strongest motive voters gave for staying in the EU was that it would be even worse outside. The challenge for the EU is to communicate a project which is not driven by Angst but rooted in hope.

Dr Melanie Sully is Director of the Vienna-based Institute for Go-Governance and is a British political scientist.