Saturday

21st May 2022

Opinion

Young Brits are pro-EU, but will they vote?

  • 'Younger Britons clearly favour a continuing UK relationship with the European Union' (Photo: Harry Watko)

British parliamentary elections are set for 7 May. Britons will go to the polls amid rising public support for the anti-European Union UK Independence Party and calls for the Conservative government of David Cameron to bring forward to 2016 a promised referendum on the country’s continued EU membership.

Four decades after the 1975 referendum in which the British electorate voted by a two-to-one majority to join the EU’s predecessor, the European Economic Community, Britain’s relationship with the Continent remains a divisive issue in UK politics.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The generation that voted to join the EEC has now turned against the EU. And Britain’s future relationship with Europe may well depend on the views of its Millennials - Britons born after 1980. But this younger, generally pro-EU generation, has a history of not voting.

Age is a stark determinant of British views on the EU and Britain’s continued membership in that organisation. Just 40 percent of those ages 50 and older hold a favorable view of the European Union, compared with 71 percent who voice a positive judgment among those ages 18 to 33, according to a Spring 2014 Pew Research Center survey.

Given such sentiments, it is not surprising that 59 percent of British Millennials favour the UK remaining in the EU, while 49 percent of those ages 50 and above want to leave.

Idealistic goals

British Millennials buy into the idealistic goals that led to the creation of the European Economic Community in 1957. Fully 63 percent believe that the EU promotes prosperity. And 52 percent see the EU as a world power. Older Britons, if they ever held those views, are now disabused: just 45 percent say the EU fosters prosperity and only 37 percent voice the view that the EU is a leading power on the world stage.

Moreover, British Millennials are less likely than their parents’ and grandparents’ generations to complain about the EU’s defects.

Only 48 percent see the EU as inefficient and just 47 percent think it is intrusive. Britons born before 1964 are far more likely to see Brussels as unproductive (70%) and meddling (72%).

This is not to say that younger Britons back an ever more centralised Europe. Just 33 percent would give more decision-making power to Brussels. But even this tepid support for a stronger EU distances their views from those held by older Britons. Only 11 percent of the generation that voted to join the earlier iteration of the EU now favor giving it greater power.

Poor turn out

As positive as British Millennials may be about the EU, their electoral clout is limited. They represent just 26 percent of the adult British population, compared with the 47 percent share accounted for by the oldest group. Moreover, voter participation by 18 to 34 year olds in the United Kingdom has consistently and significantly trailed participation by older generations.

Whatever British Millennials’ views are about the EU, if they fail to turn out to vote in May and in any subsequent EU referendum, their opinions will carry little electoral weight.

Younger Britons clearly favour a continuing UK relationship with the European Union. And, as the generation that has to live with Brussels in the future, their views carry special significance. But in an ageing society, where older Britons have both a demographic preponderance and are more committed to exercising their right to vote, Millennials’ claim to shaping the future is tenuous.

Their EU consciousness may not necessarily trump EU scepticism on election day.

Bruce Stokes is director of Global Economic Attitudes at the Pew Research Center

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

What Europe still needs to do to save its bees

On World Bee Day, it is essential to pay homage to a variety of pollinating insects crucial for our food security. A number of EU projects contribute to their sustained survival.

More EU teams needed to prosecute Ukraine war crimes

A Joint Investigation Team combines prosecutors, police and judges from different countries who come together under the coordination of Eurojust to synchronise cross-border investigations — with a track record of achieving results: from the Bataclan attacks to the MH17 investigation.

Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine - the case for granting EU candidacy

Granting EU candidacy status to Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine will firmly anchor their ties with Brussels — and enable the EU to secure its place in the Black Sea region, connecting Europe to China and energy-rich Central Asia, bypassing Russia.

Will 'Putin's Nato' follow Warsaw Pact into obscurity?

Valdimir Putin's equivalent to Nato — the Collective Security Treaty Organization of Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Armenia, Tajikistan, and Belarus — is convening in Moscow next week to give cover that Russia is not alone in its war against Ukraine.

The EU Parliament Covid inquiry: the questions MEPs must ask

A basic lack of transparency around the EU's vaccines procurement negotiations has prevented effective public and parliamentary scrutiny. It has also made it impossible to answer some of the key questions we put forward here.

News in Brief

  1. UK to send 'hundreds' of migrants to Rwanda each year
  2. Norwegian knife attacks were domestic dispute
  3. Sweden hits back at Turkey's 'disinformation' in Nato bid
  4. Germany's Schröder gives up one of two Russia jobs
  5. G7 countries pledge €18bn in financial aid for Ukraine
  6. Italian unions strike in protest over military aid for Ukraine
  7. Russia cuts gas supply to Finland
  8. Half of Gazprom's clients have opened rouble accounts

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic delegation visits Nordic Bridges in Canada
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersClear to proceed - green shipping corridors in the Nordic Region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers agree on international climate commitments
  4. UNESDA - SOFT DRINKS EUROPEEfficient waste collection schemes, closed-loop recycling and access to recycled content are crucial to transition to a circular economy in Europe
  5. UiPathNo digital future for the EU without Intelligent Automation? Online briefing Link

Latest News

  1. What Europe still needs to do to save its bees
  2. Remembering Falcone: How Italy almost became a narco-state
  3. Economic worries and Hungary on the spot Next WEEK
  4. MEPs urge sanctioning the likes of ex-chancellor Schröder
  5. MEPs call for a more forceful EU response to Kremlin gas cut
  6. Catalan leader slams Pegasus use: 'Perhaps I'm still spied on'
  7. More EU teams needed to prosecute Ukraine war crimes
  8. French EU presidency struggling on asylum reforms

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us