With one year to go, UK and EU have much to prove to the young generation

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Labour has its eyes on Westminster council, at Tory heartland, in UK local elections on Thursday. [Dominic Dudley/Shutterstock]

Policymakers on both sides of Brexit negotiations owe a duty of care to the young Britons who overwhelmingly voted “Remain” by delivering a fair deal and putting the future above political intentions, writes Andrianos Giannou.

Andrianos Giannou is the president of the youth organisation of the European People’s Party YEPP.

One year ago this week, Britain formalised the initiation of divorce proceedings from the European Union by triggering the now-infamous Article 50. The rules of splitting up are far from clear; so is the procedure.

One year on, the two parties have managed to put in place a provisional agreement, sketching out a timeframe during which material negotiations will take place. The most onerous, contentious part is yet to come.

To the young in particular, policymakers on both sides need to show much more. The stakes are substantially higher than achieving a workable solution.

The negotiations are, at least in equal measure, about setting an example for the next generation. It is about living up to the principles that both Britain and the European Union  have collectively made their raison d’être and proclaim to defend: the preservation and perpetuation of peace, good neighbourliness, solidarity and prosperity for all.

To the young Britons who overwhelmingly voted “Remain,” the British government owes a duty of care: an entire generation of politicians, will have to ensure that this group is not adversely affected by a decision, and the subsequent handling of it, that they did not make.

That means building a Brexit that works for everyone through an inclusive economic vision. It also means they will have to mend divisions that the referendum brought to the surface: a generational divide, a divide between north and south, England and Scotland, rich and poor.

When the time comes, if it has not already come, this will be essential in handing over a country that looks better, or at least not worse off.  For now, this generation of politicians seems to have been found wanting.

The EU has a similar duty not to punish an entire generation of young Brits who believed in and fought for it. That does not mean leniency or favourable treatment – rather, it means treading a fine line between damaging cherry-picking and delivering a fair deal.

It is justice that has to be restored: the Brits will have to get exactly what they have opted for, nothing less, nothing more. Defining what that is falls on the shoulders of Theresa May and her cabinet, but in the absence of a vision, the EU will have to take the middle road: what it considers to be a balanced deal.

Both parties owe a duty to the youth of Ireland not to reignite a conflict that took so long to put to rest. Sixty years of peace is what the EU usually claims to be its strongest selling point.

In the Irish border question, the EU has a unique chance to show in practice that it defends its most cherished principle. A backstop has been put in place – that is progress enough. However, a deliverable, workable, inclusive solution must be reached this summer.

To achieve this, Theresa May will have to put the interests of the country and the Irish people above those of the Conservative Party.

Keeping the Tories together and in government simply must be a lesser priority than keeping peace in Ireland – we have already seen the effects of putting the party’s fortunes above the country.

I am surprised that such a momentous issue is not being dealt with by a national unity government or a national understanding of some form. If there is anything that May needs, it’s support, not the threat of a collapsing party and government.

Moreover, there is an important lesson for the remaining member states and the EU institutions to take away: when people doubt the EU for whatever reason, practical benefits, rather than just values, should be the answer.

First, we will have to do our maths: what has been the practical benefit of EU membership to every European citizen, in very monetary terms? The answer cannot be Erasmus, roaming, or even peace.

It certainly cannot be that the European Union only costs each of us a cup of coffee a day, as the European Commission recently publicised. No one made that practical case during the referendum.

Had the Brits known that they would be worse off under almost all Brexit scenarios, or that a no-deal would cost them £1,585 each [as research by the Rand Corporation showed in December], the results could have been different.

Will the EU speak that language in the European Parliament electoral campaign?

To make Brexit work, both sides must put the future above political interest. For both, that means defending their principles and putting together inclusive visions of the future. My generation is watching and waiting for the outcome of a process that will affect us more than any other. Britain and the EU must not leave us behind.

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