The recent crisis and the following austerity measures have had an enormous impact on citizens’ trust in EU institutions and have made Euro-skepticism a rule rather than an exception. As a matter of fact less than half eligible citizens voted in last European election in 2009, resulting in the lowest turnout ever. Many now claim that this trend will continue in the coming elections in May this year due to a low level of interest for EU affairs and the rise of right wing populists. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, and the construction of a strong EU integration project, since the crisis people are more negative about EU. Is EU that fragile? What role do young people play here?
I do not agree with all the alarmist voices who state that young people are passive and that we are less politically engaged than our parents. We just have different tools for getting involved and some of us surely take their chances in visibly influencing policy making. What I would like to accentuate here is that the “culture” of being socially and politically engaged has changed its forms of manifestation, but it did not fade away. There are the same differences / political orientations as in other generations, but different ways of communicating their views. The question and the biggest challenge for EU democracy is how to include them in EU institutions and politics?
In that sense, 2014 promises to be a pivotal year for the EU. A new European Parliament will be elected in May, followed by the selection of a new European Commission College and President in September and a new European Council President in November. Young Europeans are a well equipped generation (educated, with the tools of social media, benefiting from mobility, etc). What can be expected from them in this election year? What about more young people working in the EU institutions? There is this huge problem that in European election campaigns, both at national and European level, there was no focus on areas of interest to youth, nor did political parties and candidates make an effort to involve young people in campaign debates. What EU needs mostly these days is an arena of young, well informed and active citizens who would take action in their community to solve the economic crisis they are faced with in imaginative ways. As such I think that the European Parliament should have more young representatives at EU level. This way it will speak more in the terms of the young people, and will address the needs of young people directly.
I personally believe that EU should be a product of our making. We need to make EU a tailor-made project for the needs of the new generation of Europeans who did not experience any war between each other, who travelled the world and benefited from its diversity and mobility programs. We should be the ones leading the change in the EU if we don’t like it as it is.
Think of this situation – imagine that you are part of a trial in a courtroom – would you like to represent yourself before court? Or you think you might have more chances to be defended if you had a lawyer? The European Parliament represents you in the big negotiations at EU level. It’s like you have a lawyer, you have someone to lobby for you as a citizen, you have a voice. But you need to talk to your lawyer openly. You need to let him know as best as you can which are your needs and hopes. And of course, you need hold him accountable for his actions, as you are the one who appointed him in that position. For this, you need to step out and engage. You should not let MEPs “imagine” or simply guess what you need or what you think. You should articulate that by yourself – in petitions, in Citizens Initiative, in taking part to public consultations. Say it with your words! Negotiate it in your terms!
The Treaty of Lisbon has put our “lawyer”, the European Parliament, at the table with the Commission and the Council. Starting from May 2014, the “demos” has its say in EU politics. If we criticize EU for having a democratic deficit, than we should support in this sense the European Parliament in order to shorten this deficit. So I decided to go and vote in the European elections in May because I don’t want my lawyer to be left out. I need him/her to represent my interests the best he/she can.