Following the results of the UK referendum on EU membership, with 52% of citizens voting ‘Leave’, AEGEE / European Students’ Forum states that we respect the results and the will of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. However, as a Network and a family of young Europeans who dream and strive for a democratic, borderless Europe, today we are sad and disappointed with the referendum results.
The referendum in the United Kingdom proves that the process of European integration can also regress, and it will unquestionably have drastic consequences – especially for the youth in the UK, the majority (75% among the Brits 24 and younger, according to YouGov’s exit poll) of which have casted their vote in favour of the ‘Remain’ and will be the ones living with such consequences for the longest, and we are saddened by the fact that people aged 16 and 17 were blocked to cast their vote. We also regret the rhetoric of the campaigns, who have lacked facts and used the European Union as a scapegoat, with some sectors pointing their fingers to the migrants from other countries in the United Kingdom, who will also face big challenges and uncertainty from now on.
Being mobility and intercultural dialogue in the core of AEGEE’s identity, and being this one of the aspects most valued by young Europeans, this poses a threat to free movement for citizens in the United Kingdom and the other way around, and we demand that such positive aspects of European integration are kept and facilitated, in spite of the ‘Leave’ result.
Nonetheless, we shall not see the results solely as a disappointment, but also as an opportunity. We undoubtedly believe that the European Union in its current state needs a wide reform. Therefore, the results of this referendum must be a wake-up call for the European institutions and its Member States to reflect on their mistakes, evaluate the current status of democracy and governance within the EU for the better, and spark the political imagination to reconnect Europe with its citizens.
May this also be the chance for the European civil society to take the ownership and the lead to a stronger Europe of citizens. In order to achieve this, the joint efforts of political institutions, trans-European movements, educators and the media are needed: lack of information, education and awareness is one of the key challenges that the European Union is facing, and so we call for the need of a real civic education to shape active and well-informed citizens in our continent to counter misinformation by fostering critical thinking. After all, the European Union is a project of peace, freedom and cooperation – values that can never be stressed and promoted enough, nor taken for granted.
Last, but not least, we would like to acknowledge and wholeheartedly thank the AEGEE members in the United Kingdom, who have shown a strong commitment, campaigned actively, and who have joined efforts to raise awareness of the consequences that the referendum would have – regardless of the outcome and the results. Therefore, we encourage our members in the AEGEE Network to take action together: let’s keep spreading the positive narrative, promoting the values of cooperation, tolerance and open-mindedness that unite us and let’s keep showing the opportunity that a borderless Europe built by citizens, for citizens can bring.