By Charlotte Crang
I was looking at YouTube the other day, watching some video that recently came to light. It was the oldest footage of London, filmed between about 1890 and the early 20th century.
I watched guards march past Buckingham Palace and other scenery so familiar to me, a long-time resident of the city. And yet somehow it seemed more British than the city I know, perhaps because of the absence of internationally designed skyscrapers on the horizon and international visitors on the streets.
London is different now. Indeed, the UK is different now. My generation doesn’t remember a time when we weren’t part of the EU, when this wasn’t one of the most polyglot cities in the world. Although we may have an intellectual understanding of the skepticism of our elders about the European project and its open door policy, our experience is completely different.
We have grown up with kids from other countries, passed through European borders freely and regarded access to the single market for jobs and trade as givens. Europe seemed such a settled part of the backdrop that few of us expected another referendum at this point in our lives.
But if there must be one, I am glad it is happening when I am old enough to cast my vote.
It cost me only living expenses to attend a world-renowned university.
Before moving to London, I lived and went to school in Frankfurt, Germany. It was there I started to internalize what “Europe” means to me.
To my younger self, Europe meant freedom, safety and stability. During our time in Germany, we made an effort to visit all of the countries around us, a goal both relatively inexpensive and easy to accomplish because of the openness of the borders.
My sister and I could go to the shops and buy some of our favorite products from other countries. We even considered studying at German universities, where we knew we would be welcome, even though we weren’t German citizens, because we were part of the EU.
Although ultimately I decided to pursue my degree in the UK, I still took advantage of the European education system. Like 3.3 million other students in Europe since the start of the Eramus program in 1987, I enrolled in the exchange program, spending my second-to-last year of university studying at the Sorbonne in Paris.
It cost me only living expenses — plus 10 euros to replace a lost ID card — to attend a world-renowned university, and I didn’t need to navigate a complicated student visa process beforehand.
The Erasmus program is nearing its 30th anniversary, and I hope other students in the UK will continue to benefit from it for years to come. Universities in Switzerland, a country that Britain’s “Leave” campaign touts as a possible model for a post-exit Britain, are denied access to the program, a potential limiting factor on their research capabilities.
EU policy-makers have made some pretty good decisions.
The ability to travel and study where we like is an amazing opportunity for young people. We should feel lucky to be able to see and experience so many diverse nations easily and safely. And if the ability to work anywhere in the EU remains a fundamental right, we can continue to travel well into our careers.
This freedom of movement and thought is essential to broadening horizons and to promoting an understanding of other cultures among young adults, who will soon control the businesses and policies of Europe. The entrepreneurs among us will benefit, too. We all want to support local enterprises, and they will flourish if we can continue to respect our trade relationships with Europe and the rest of the world.
The best way for Britain to negotiate with the rest of the world is to present a united front with our European neighbors. While some may resent that Brussels controls some aspects of sovereignty, policy-makers there have made some pretty good decisions.
EU influence has led to strong laws against discrimination and in favor of maternity leave, which will become more and more important to my generation as we enter the workforce. The Council of Europe boasts both an important medical directorate and the most active human rights court in Europe.
If Britain leaves, it risks losing influence on the global stage.
These bodies have cemented so many of the protections we enjoy today, and individuals can use them to fight for their rights as well. From decisions relating to the rights of migrants and the LGBTQ community, to the future of our environment, Europe is a force to be reckoned with.
It took decades of war and continental chaos to inspire unity in Europe. We are still working out the kinks in bringing a diverse set of nations together. Perhaps the continued desire for this hard-won unity is why no country has ever left the EU and why so many clamor to join. For the sake of our futures, we should revel in our experiences as an inclusive, globalized generation.
What Britain may have given up by way of historic sovereignty, we have gained in personal autonomy and the ability to travel, work and live throughout the EU. If it leaves, Britain risks losing its role in EU decision-making and losing influence on the global stage.
As someone who recently chose to take British citizenship, I am voting “Remain” because a united Europe will be better positioned than 28 individual, sovereign states to deal with the challenges of an ever-changing world.
(The views are the author’s.)
Charlotte Crang is studying French and English at King’s College London. She attended Sorbonne Paris IV on her Erasmus year abroad. She has lived in six countries and worked at international events including the London 2012 Olympics. Charlotte is interested in learning about other cultures and innovators around the globe.