June 2016 was when I began to truly feel European. We must stay in the EU.

I’m proud to be European. It has shaped me as a person, and I am grateful for the benefits it brings me. But we need to fight for our rights as European citizens.

I was just twelve years old when David Cameron, on the steps of 10 Downing Street, called the 2016 EU referendum. Up until that point, I had never really engaged with politics – but that moment was a watershed for me. No longer could I feel that politics was irrelevant to my life. I wanted to fight to defend my country’s incredibly beneficial position within the European Union.

Personally, I have always felt tied to Europe: being a French-British dual national, it has always played a key role in my life. Yet the 2016 referendum was the moment I began to feel truly European.

“Stronger In” campaigners in March 2016. Photo: Jim Killock / Flickr

Putting my message across

I remember distinctly the day of the referendum, Thursday 23rd June 2016. My school was holding a public speaking competition and naturally, I chose to tackle Brexit. I am still rather surprised to this day that I was permitted to talk about such a, shall we say, touchy subject in such an opinionated manner – although I think it would be a struggle to find many Eurosceptic teachers!

In my speech, I drew on ideas of European culture and identity, and how pivotal this has been in my life. This was a moment I felt proud to be European. I could openly discuss my passion for Europe. Even being just thirteen, I comprehended the enormity of the decision being made on this historic day, and knew it would shape my future for months, years, decades to come.

Photo: Alexandra Person

United in Diversity

It was whilst composing my aforementioned speech that I came across the European Union’s motto: United in Diversity. To me, this seems to perfectly encapsulate everything the EU stands for. A group of 28 countries with diverse cultures, languages, identities and histories. To this day I still marvel at how incongruous nations such as Germany and Greece can come together to work for the best interests of 513 million European citizens.

This was, and still is, a club I want our country to be a part of. It’s not just trade, freedom of movement, EU local funding and of course the removal of roaming charges. The EU also gives me something to identify with. In an age when nationalists like Farage and Johnson have hijacked British patriotism with their xenophobic, anti-immigrant agenda, Europe gives me an identity I can be proud of.

In an age when nationalists like Farage and Johnson have hijacked British patriotism with their xenophobic agenda, Europe gives me an identity I can be proud of.

I can still never understand why anyone in their right mind would want to deny themselves the right to live, love, work, study and travel without hindrance in 28 countries – to experience the fascinating cultures, meet interesting people and eat delicious food. It has brought me so many tangible benefits, things we simply cannot lose.

The morning after

But sadly, it was at this moment when I felt so proud to be European that it all began to cave in. I remember vividly the morning of the 24th June, waking up early, turning on the TV and seeing the result. The UK had voted to leave the European Union. What on earth had happened?

Photo: Juuso Järviniemi

A country that had previously felt so inclusive, so welcoming, so open, had just voted for the greatest act of self-harm undertaken by perhaps any country in history. I could not believe it. I went in to school that day and, even amongst my less political friends, there was a sombre cloud hanging over us. The vast majority of my friends, like most young people, are strongly pro-EU, yet we were denied a voice in a vote that will (and already does) shape our future.

Liberty, equality, fraternity

I made a resolute decision on that morning: I would continue to combat the menace of Euroscepticism that had descended over our country. There was too much to lose by leaving the EU; we could not, and should not, let it happen.

Perhaps one of the few benefits of Brexit for me personally was that it finally prompted me to obtain French nationality – by virtue of my French mother. Fearful of the rights I could lose post-Brexit, on 29 August 2017 I received my French passport at the Consulat Général de France.

Finally, irrespective of what happened in Brussels and London, I would retain my freedoms as a European citizen, and would be able to continue to call myself European – something I am to this day incredibly grateful for.

Parlez-vous franglais?

Photo: Juuso Järviniemi

Of course, being a French national I found it only right that I spoke French, and it is through bilingualism that I have continued to feel European, even in the face of Brexit. I have recently completed studying French and German GCSEs, and in September I will further my studies as I go on to study French A Level.

The myriad doors that I can open up, not just by being a European citizen but also by being bilingual, will help my future aspirations endlessly. What if I want to study at the university in Brussels? That’s fine. What if I want to live in Paris? That’ll be expensive, but I can do it.

What if, in decades’ time, I want to retire on the Côte d’Azur? Assuming climate change hasn’t turned our planet into a fiery ball of molten lava by then, I can do that too.

I am European

Of course, my story is rather unique, and I am just one of millions of other like-minded young people enraged by Brexit. I am incredibly lucky to be able to call myself European. Whether we are travelling on our holidays to Europe or taking advantage of local EU-funded projects, it is something none of us should take for granted.

If we do get a People’s Vote, we must learn the lessons of 2016. Avoid ‘Project Fear’. Promote ‘Project Hope’. Make people stand up and realise what being European means for them. Give people hope of a better future for us inside the EU. Give people a moment like the one I had in 2016, when I felt proud to be European for the first time.