Students
There are clear benefits of being in the EU for young people and students Getty Images

As the debate on Britain's membership of the EU begins to dominate our front pages and TV screens, there are a number of voices conspicuous in this vital conversation only by their absence. Women, for a start. BME people. And of course, young people.

This vote is momentous for all of us – for our rights at work, our environment, our security. But it is deeply concerning that so far the debate has failed to engage those who have never in their lifetime had a say on the European question, and yet whose entire future will be affected by this vote.

For many younger people, there is simply no question when it comes to Europe. They have grown up in the era of peace and stability inaugurated by the creation of the EU; been protected from discrimination and unfair treatment by EU laws; studied and worked with friends and colleagues who have come to the UK from abroad. For some, being European is an instinctive part of their identity. For others, remaining in is simply common sense.

We must consider too the thousands of EU nationals who have come to live and study in Britain, who will be denied a vote on the 23rd June - and yet face an uncertain future.

Of course, there are clear material benefits for young people and students of being in the EU. To date, over 200,000 UK students have worked or studied abroad using the Erasmus programme; these opportunities halve graduates' chance of experiencing long-term unemployment and allow British universities to attract the brightest and best of European talent. The billions of pounds of funding pumped into our higher education institutions not only allow us to conduct groundbreaking research, but mean that far more students are able to go on to study at post-graduate level.

And this isn't just about British students. We must consider too the thousands of EU nationals who have come to live and study in Britain, who will be denied a vote on the 23rd June – and yet face an uncertain future.

Read more: Why women should vote to leave the EU

For young Brits who aren't at university, or have no interest in living or working abroad, the EU delivers jobs, training opportunities and workplace protections here at home. But EU membership offers so much more than just prosperity here and now.

Being part of the EU allows us to take greater control of our future, and build the kind of world we want to see. A world where governments take real action on climate change; where citizens' rights are safeguarded against the interests of transnational corporations; and where international crises are solved through co-operation, not war.

With powerful social movements growing all across our continent, the younger generation has a huge opportunity to change Europe for the better – to ensure that it becomes a genuine force for solidarity and collective action.

For a start that means making important meetings like the EU Council open to the public through livestreaming, and rebalancing the power in Brussels so that elected politicians in the European Parliament have sway over unelected commissioners – not the other way round.

It also means further clamping down on corporate lobbyists – something that the EU has already begun and the British government could learn from. As former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis said recently we need a movement that will "shake Europe –gently, compassionately, but firmly."

It's up to young people to work together to reimagine the kind of Europe they want and then fight for it

Reclaiming the future won't be easy – and reforming the EU's institutions is only the start of the process. But with the alternative being sitting silently, it's up to young people to work together to reimagine the kind of Europe they want and then fight for it. They mustn't let older generations steal that chance away from them and allow Britain to sleepwalk into isolation.

There is a common misconception that young people are not interested in politics. This is wrong. Young people are political. But they distrust the democratic process and are disengaged with traditional politics and institutions.

So, with voter turnout historically low among 18-25s, there is no room for complacency: those of us invested in building a better Europe all have a duty to ensure that on the 23rd June young voters engage with this referendum and take their future into their hands. Believing in the EU isn't enough – we've all got to vote for it too.


Caroline Lucas is Member of Parliament for Brighton Pavilion. She served as leader of the Green Party of England and Wales from 2008 to 2012.


Caroline Lucas will be speaking on Tuesday 8 March at a debate entitled 'Should students care about the EU?'