Generation Europe: Young Brits who back EU | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 18.01.2013
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Generation Europe: Young Brits who back EU

Just when it seemed as if the momentum was firmly on the side of the euroskeptics in Britain, a new survey has revealed a generational divide in attitudes towards the EU.

Two thirds of 18-24 year olds in Britain would vote "yes" to European Union membership - that's according to a new poll conducted by the British-based market research agency YouGov.

However, overall, the survey revealed a 12-point lead for those who wish to leave the EU. Among Brits over 60, that figure is particularly high, at 61 percent.

So why is euroskepticism so prevalent among older people in Britain? And why is the younger generation more likely to back the European project?

Perks for youth

It seems that young people are far more likely to feel that they have personally benefitted from Britain's EU membership. Many of them, according to the survey, enjoy the benefits of free travel in Europe, as well as social and employment rights. Only one in five 18-34 year olds claimed they did not personally benefit from Britain's membership, compared to half of those aged over 60.

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron arrives in Brussels; REUTERS/Yves Herman (BELGIUM - Tags: BUSINESS POLITICS)

David Cameron is set to lay out his vision for Europe

The United Kingdom joined what was then the European Community back in 1973 - but it's youngsters who have reaped the biggest rewards. John Wastnage is one of those young Brits who have taken advantage of all that Europe has to offer. He studied European languages at university, and he's now president of the Young European Movement - an organization run by young people for young people who are interested in discovering more about the EU.

"I've benefitted from the more liberal and international continent that Europe has become. I've also benefitted from freedom of movement, from having been able to study at La Sorbonne in Paris and then being able to live in Spain and in Milan. My girlfriend is German, and I met her in Spain," he told DW.

"And a lot of my friends are from other European countries, living in London. The international nature of London makes it a much more interesting city to live in."

Cameron's 'new vision' for Europe

The figures have been released at a time when the British government is heading for a more detached relationship with Europe, with many on the right of the ruling Conservative party calling for Britain to leave the EU altogether.

UKPrime Minister David Cameron had been planning to give a pivotal speech on the issue this Friday - but he was forced to postpone it to deal with the hostage crisis in Algeria. When he does finally speak, it seems he may not be able to count on the support of younger voters:

"I believe that a lot of the problems that we face in the future as a country and as a world need to be resolved by working with other countries… rather than isolating ourselves and trying to solve problems alone," Wastnage said.

"Young people have grown up in a more globalized environment, so particularly for people turning 18 now, it's quite likely that they can't recall a time when the internet was not ubiquitous, and that's definitely an issue: They see themselves as world citizens," explained Joe Twyman, director of political and social research at YouGov.

Großbritannien Stadt City of London Bus und U-Bahn Schild Bank Station

London's international flair has contributed greatly to its popularity

Ultimately a matter of numbers

But Twyman added that, considering British demographics, the voting power is in the hands of the older population, so europhiles should view the figures with caution.

"Older people are the ones that are more likely to vote and this could be crucial if it does come to a referendum," he told DW. "It could be that although attitudinally the country - particularly younger people - support being part of the European Union, it's not completely outside the realms of possibility that, come a referendum, the people who actually turn out to vote are the older, 'less European' people. So, due to low-turn out we could find ourselves tumbling out of Europe."

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