The official run-up to the 2014 European elections started on 10 September, when the European Parliament launched its awareness and information campaign. Six months down the line, I am wondering how successful the campaign has been, and more specifically, to what extent the campaign addresses young people. Given the role young Europeans will play in shaping Europe’s future, their engagement is crucial. Are politicians and institutions consequently trying to get young citizens involved, and to gain their vote?
The way young people are generally involved in politics has changed enormously in the past century. Our parents and grandparents have experienced firsthand the importance of European solidarity and integration. They were born in a world of war and scarceness, and the EU promised to bring peace and welfare. The current younger generations grew up in a safe and prosperous Europe, and can hardly imagine the different with the struggles their grandparents went through. As a result, they have different needs and concerns.
While many adults accuse them of a lack of political interest, in my view it is quite the opposite: they are actually very concerned and much more critical than generations before. They do not close their eyes to corruption, a democratic deficit or liberal policies which cut back on education and research. They try to change things and raise their voice, the problem however is that no one is listening to them. In this context, it is understandable they are left with deception and turn their back on the political establishment: Why would they take part in a system that ignores them?
Obviously the EU has not abandoned their youngsters and has put many programs into practice in order to involve them in EU policy debates. Various scholarship and language exchange programmes, simulation models of the European Parliament and programmes such as Young Volunteering, Youth for Europe and Youth in Action are only few of the examples of European initiatives that attempt to involve younger generations. However, are politicians taking into account the output from these initiatives?
Not as much as they should in my opinion. Young people are using new communication tools, such as assemblies or online platforms, to express their views. But these views do not reach the political arena of the European Union. Young people also keep themselves informed through a wide range of new media, such as social media, alternative newspapers and blogs. But these are not taken into account in campaigns by most traditional political parties. Political programmes in general show very few references to youth issues, which indicates that conventional parties do not care about young Europeans. Is this, because young voters are the smallest group of voters?
While new forms of participation (e-democracy, liquid democracy, direct democracy) are being proposed, so far politicians easily put them aside. Up to this point, my recommendation for the forthcoming campaign is that politicians, rather than informing the public and broadcasting their opinions, start by listening to what young people are actually telling them. Politicians should acknowledge the current gap between generations, and make concrete attempts to overcome differences that prevent that gap from getting bigger.
Fortunately, one day the current youngsters will be the ones in power and put these genuine ideas in practice. I can only hope that on that day, they do listen to younger generations.