By Glenn Forster, Chairman, Youth Against the EU, UK
Those in favour of the EU constantly suggest that young people are in favour of the EU. The EU is presented as a young, idealistic idea, and as a result, young people must be seen as consenting to the EU's model of European integration, and EU opponents in Britain must be seen as being irrational, old, right-wingers for this perspective to be accepted by British society. The EU therefore devotes a significant proportion of its campaigning time in campaigning amongst young people, and to try and present the EU as an idea which enjoys widespread support amongst idealistic youngsters.
But there is increasing concern about EU campaigns aimed at young people, and this concern is being shown by those outside EU critical circles. Targeting of young people, is according to former Commissioner Willy De Clerq ' strategically judicious to act where resistance is weakest', and the Commission is running a multi-million pound campaign which propagates the merits of the current model of EU integration. This aims at influencing education to mention the 'merits' of the EU tries to build a feeling of 'EU nationalism' amongst young people. The EU wants its agenda to permeate all areas of teaching. A British MEP has stated that children must be more knowledgeable about the EU 'so they can educate their parents'. Promotional material is given to schools though a variety of expensive materials, such as CD Roms; and underfunded schools are happy to receive free teaching materials (it is ironic that underfunding in schools is a consequence of public spending cuts to meet the Maastricht convergence criteria for entry to the euro!).
A mobile information centre full of pro-EU literature contained in a large truck (the EU is very fond of large trucks) visits schools. The EU information given to schools paints a nice rosy picture of the EU, omitting nasty bits like 20 million unemployed, Schengen, the building of an EU nuclear superpower - and so on. The current British government has no mandate to take Britain into the euro; but information given to children states 'the euro will be the currency of the 21st century - your money'. A colouring book called 'Lets Draw Europe Together' calls for school children to commit themselves to achieving European unity. Part one of the book has the title: 'My Country: Europe', and has pictures to colour in such as a young child knocking over a frontier sign of a country and erecting a EU flag amongst misleading and untruthful statements about the EU. Propaganda hit a new low with the introduction of 'Captain Euro', and EU super-hero. It demonises EU critics, who are the villains, and has disturbed parents, MP's and anti-fascist groups.
It seems EU critical viewpoints are not tolerated in our schools. Headteachers have refused EU critical offers of speakers to put a moderate EU critical view. One headteacher said : 'maybe in a referendum'. Why not now? This one-sided viewpoint of EU issues given to children is illegal under British law. Section 406 of the 1996 Education Act states that: 'where political issues are brought to the attention of pupils...they are offered a balanced presentation of opposing views'. Is stifling debate over the EU and pouring masses of pro-EU propaganda down the throats of children balanced? Opposition and debate about the EU is growing throughout Europe. Critics of the EU can point out that the EU is destroying the environment, creating unemployment....should not young people at least have the chance to decide if they feel the same? Do we in Britain not live in a democracy? To spend taxpayers money on politically indoctrinating young people into supporting the EU is unlawful and morally wrong. It is not healthy for to engender a narrow-minded EU nationalism amongst young people, teaching them to disregard those European countries outside the EU, and the whole world outside this corner of western Europe.
Do the EU's campaigns work? Like many other countries, political participation - voting at elections and membership of political parties - amongst young British people is less likely than in other, older age groups. Young people are therefore quite apathetic about issues concerning the Union, which are mundane to many hardened EU critics, and are therefore hardly likely to be receptive to EU propaganda.
Young people do conduct a great deal of political activity outside of activity in parties and casting votes at election time. Many young people are active in single issue campaigns, concerning emotive issues such as environment and animal welfare; and activity in these areas is bringing them in opposition with the EU. For example, a big issue in Britain is the matter of live animal exports from the British mainland to the continent for slaughter. Animals travel in poor conditions and are then slaughtered using practices which are outlawed in Britain because public opinion feels they are inhumane - such as the use of veal crates. In 1995 the Conservative British government said that to ban live exports setting higher welfare standards than the rest of the Union 'would not be compatible with European law'. The Labour Party was elected to government in 1997 with the policy of banning live animal exports. The Labour government waited for a legal case on whether the exports could be banned brought by UK NGO Compassion in World Farming. But the judgement in March of this year said that a British ban would be illegal, as existing laws from Brussels had already laid down minimum standards. Public opinion wants to ban this trade; the government wants to ban this trade: but it cannot be banned because of Single Market regulations, and Britain can not adopt higher standards on a whole range of animal welfare issues. So all those involved in animal welfare campaigns develop a grievance towards the EU.
British greens have always held the view that the EU has always been ecologically unsound, and Britain's broad environmental movement, which has always enjoyed a healthy number of young people joining its campaigns who dislike the EU with its emphasis on nuclear energy, unnecessary long distance road freight trade, support of genetically modified food and patents on life, and penchant for favouring the interests of the multi-nationals over the citizen. 'Road protests' against the construction of new motorways are popular amongst young people; conversely, the EU declines in popularity when protesters find that new roads are part of TENS, such as the Newbury bypass. Recent opinion polls revealed that that 46% of the British public would vote to leave the Union in a referendum; and increasingly, opinion polls are suggesting that young Britons are opposed to the Union.
A recent poll conducted by the Runnymede Trust and the Commission for Racial Equality produced statistics which showed that the majority of people under-25 consider themselves to be 'British'; the poll also proved that young people showed little enthusiasm for the euro and showed concern about the loss of democratic self-determination. Britain's Commission representative, Geoffrey Martin, stated that the findings marked the 'beginnings of a crisis'. What Mr Martin has to understand is that young people have the intelligence to link the closing of hospitals, underfunding in schools, cuts in help for university students and high levels of youth unemployment to the EU and its ill-conceived model of European integration. They know there are better models for European integration. Today's young Britons were too young to vote in Britain's 1975 referendum on whether the country should stay in the EEC. The opposition being shown suggests that young people will vote negatively in any future British EU related referendum in future.