After the Brexit Vote, Young Europeans Cautiously Look to a United Future

Viacom International spoke to European youth after the UK’s historic vote—and found that they continue to believe in the future of a united Europe.

A few years ago, Viacom International spoke to youth around the globe about their view of the future in 2020 (hint: it was quite optimistic). Young Europeans in the study at that time spoke about the many opportunities available to them throughout Europe, including travel, career, and general cultural exploration.

In the wake of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union last month, Viacom International re-contacted seven respondents from the UK, Italy, France, Spain, Netherlands and Sweden to hear their reactions to Brexit and learn how their views about the future may have shifted.

This post is the first in a series of three that will appear this summer on European youth and their opinions on the future of a united Europe.

A unity of differences makes Europe stronger

These young people generally don’t feel ‘European’: they’re Swedish or Spanish, Scandinavian or Mediterranean. Or their identity is more complex (this generation being the most ethnically diverse to date). Take Luxisle, for example, who told us:

“I cannot define myself as European. I define myself as French currently living in the UK and originally from Cameroon.” (Luxisle, 26, from Paris, now living in London)

So they don’t feel ‘European’ exactly. And they’re not overly romantic about the European Union, either. They recognize that it’s imperfect, fragile, an uneasy alliance of very different cultures.

But the European Union means something to them. Part of its symbolic power is precisely that it is diverse: it’s a symbol of unity and collaboration, of mutual support, of “individuals in a group” – “together but different” (Unni, 21, Stockholm). As Gloria (21, Italy) put it:

“Even though [the EU is] 28 countries and there are 24 official languages, we are still able to see ourselves [both] as a whole… and as singular nations. The beautiful thing about Europe is its singular features: the beauty of Italy, the productivity of France, the intelligence of Germany. We are like a very big family. We could be a really big, beautiful family if we kept on working together for the future.” (Gloria, 21, Rome)

Brexit doesn’t put an end to their dreams, but it complicates them by making the future feel more uncertain

As Elin (31, Stockholm) put it, “We’re more fragile than we think we are.”

European youth have already been dealing with a difficult job market, and the UK’s decision adds a dose of concern about what Europe’s political and economic future might look like.

“Brexit is another brick taken out from the house I’m trying to build for my future.” (Gloria, 21, Rome)

Young Brits are likewise no longer certain of the freedoms they grew up with. There’s a sense of feeling trapped in the UK. “How welcoming will other countries be to British people after we shunned them?” asks Jasmine (16, London).

A UK problem for now, with an uncertain impact beyond its borders

From talking to young Europeans, the sense was that it’s too early to say with any certainty what the long-term effects of Brexit might be. Not even the experts know.

Probed on the potential bearing on their own countries, they felt Brexit may impact in ways we don’t yet understand. Perhaps local prices will rise due to the cost of imports; perhaps the Stockholm housing bubble will burst.

But they believe the impact of Brexit would be most keenly felt by the UK: on trade, on the economy, on its attractiveness as a place to live and to locate a company, and on the unity of the Kingdom (many believe Scotland will now try to break away again). The impact would start to be felt much more across Europe if other European countries, particularly France and Germany, are to follow.

While much is uncertain at this stage, young Europeans did express concern over the conflict between the future they are working hard to shape for themselves and the barriers put in place by isolationists and older generations. We’ll cover those issues in our next two posts on this topic.