Young Brits Back EU as Politicians Squabble
Assistant News Editor, CNBC.com
As U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron prepares to deliver a speech outlining his vision for a new U.K. relationship with the European Union (EU), a recent poll shows that far from feeling alienated from Europe, like their parent's generation, the majority of young people in the U.K. back the "European project".
According to a poll by British-based market research agency, YouGov, young Brits are supporters of EU - as a generation that has grown accustomed to the 12-year-old single currency, inter-continental study or leisure, European employment mobility and that ethereal sense of "belonging" not seemingly experienced by older Brits.
Released last Friday, the survey revealed that 66 percent of 18-34 year olds in Britain would vote "yes" to European Union membership with only 1 in 5 (19 percent) of the same age group feeling that they have not benefited from EU membership.
The U.K. this month marks its 40th anniversary since joining the European Economic Community (EEC), but there are some Britons that are commiserating rather than celebrating. Indeed, 51 percent of respondents over 60 years old told the survey that they did not personally benefit from the EEC's successor, the EU.
(Read More: UK Upsets Germany Over Key EU Speech)
Despite the uptick in young support for the EU, the survey revealed a 12-point lead for those who wish to leave the EU, a figure bolstered by the 61 percent of Brits who would vote "no" to staying within the region.
Young Generation the Key to Stability
Martin Schulz, President of the European parliament, told CNBC that winning the hearts of the younger generation was key to maintaining a peaceful and functioning Europe.
"The national responsibility and the European responsibility is to discuss, especially with young people, their future in the 21st century," he told CNBC on Monday. "No single country - not the U.K., Germany or France will manage the challenges of the 21st century alone."
Cameron's speech on the EU set for Wednesday follows a recent political furore over whether the U.K. could leave the EU if the generally euro-skeptic British public were allowed to vote in a national referendum on EU membership.
(Read More: Britain to Drift Out of EU Without Reforms)
In recent days the British Prime Minister has played down the idea of a referendum over EU membership after international concerns were raised that a Britain out of the EU would damage diplomatic and trade relations. The EU is the U.K.'s biggest trading partner, with trade valued at 400 billion pounds a year ($633.4 billion).
Cameron is however expected to warn in his speech that Britain risked "drifting" out of the EU if the Union did not confront its challenges. The speech was originally scheduled for last Friday but had to be delayed due to the Algerian hostage crisis. Cameron is also expected to criticize the political and economic bloc for being undemocratic and not competitive.
While there's been little mention of a "referendum" in recent days, Cameron is expected to talk about a looser version of British membership, that will allow "opt-outs" on European policies for the U.K., a move opposed by many European countries concerned that an "a la carte" membership for the U.K. will open the door for other EU members to follow suit.
Young Wary of UK Isolation
The YouGov poll also revealed other splits between the older and newer generation. Forty seven percent of those over 60 believe that "Britain could use its own historic international links to punch above its weight in the world."
The younger generation disagree, with only 34 percent believing that a tactic of influence and "soft power" would prove powerful enough for an isolated U.K.
Young British people are also concerned over a future outside the Union.
Forty percent of those aged 18-34 agreed that "Britain may become isolated in a world of big power blocs such as the U.S., the EU and China", while only 29 percent of those over 60 agreed that the U.K. could lose its standing.
Martin Shultz told CNBC that the younger generation were concerned over human rights and that "a united Europe can better defend our values against such regions in the world that are not respecting human rights."
"That's the thing. Real values related to economic efficiency, this is the thing that young people will support. This is the spirit of Europe and I am prepared to fight for it – also in the U.K," he said.