It is a shame that so many abstain from the ballots

Posted on 13. May 2014

by Noora Löfström

Noora Lovstrom NEWWhat do young people feel when they think of Europe? What would they want to change, where does the EU plays on their nerves? Handelsblatt Online and FutureLab Europe joined forces to bring up a set of young voices. The respondent today is Noora Lampinen (26) from Finland, living in Belgium.

1. For me, Europe is more than a continent, a flag or a union – Europe is home and full of opportunities. I have been privileged to have had the chance to enjoy the freedoms to live, travel, study and work in several European countries. I have quite a collection of European capitals in my baggage; being born in Stockholm, studied in Helsinki, had a summer job in Paris, did an embassy internship in Dublin, Erasmus studies in Madrid and currently live in Brussels. Because of this, I have been fortunate enough to get to know people from different cultures and backgrounds.

Europe for me is the people, prospects and particularities of each region. Living outside Europe in the US with my family when I was little, I saw Europe from the angle across the Atlantic. From the point of view of an American, European countries are small and alone quite insignificant. When Princess Diana passed away, the grocery store clerk gave her condolences to my mother as she heard from her accent that she was European. Then when already back in Finland, one of our former American neighbors had a friend stay in Paris and thought we could go say hello, thinking there is not much of a distance Helsinki-Paris.

As Finland is a bit isolated within Europe, I especially like living on the continent when you can simply drive from country to country without stopping. For Easter, I drove from Brussels to the Alps and went skiing on the French, Italian and Swiss slopes – this without ever having to show a passport or permit. Though living in what is said to be the heart of Europe, makes me harness to the specialties of my home country and culture even more.

2. What I don’t like about the EU is how bureaucratic, undemocratic and non-transparent the decision making seems at times. The processes should be made clear for the average citizen to understand and journalists should report in a more constructive manner and not simply cling to curved cucumbers or bent bananas. Also the institutions should not give reason to such reporting. With the Lisbon treaty the European Parliament has gotten more power and can scrutinize the decisions of the Council of Ministers which is a step in the right direction. Also the fact that the European Commission President will be chosen (possibly out of the spizenkandidaten put forward by the European parties) by the European Parliament, which is representing the citizens of the EU, is positive for democratic legitimacy and transparency. People should also feel they are able to turn to their representatives in the European Parliament on queries related to the EU. On a more concrete issue, a thing I dislike with the EU is the monthly relocating of the European Parliament to Strasbourg for the plenary sessions. This is a waste of time, money and resources that could be much better spent. Also micro managing the member states should be avoided. The EU should keep to being big in the big things, such as climate change, migration and organized crime as well as supervision and control of the banking sector. The rest should be left to the member states who better know what is best for their people.

3. I vote, because the European Parliament has too much power that I would neglect to vote. If you do not make a decision yourself, someone will make the decision for you. One could argue that one vote does not make a difference, but as there are so many right-wing and national populist parties, all votes for the more pro-European and rational approaches to the EU count. In my opinion, if you do not use your right to vote, you do not have the right to complain either. A voter has the right to contact decision makers and ask for advice, additional details or make the representative accountable for their actions. Voting is seen as a privilege in many countries and knowing what previous generations went through to get universal suffrage makes it even more valuable. Many people across the globe still fight to have a democratic say in the decision making process in their countries. It is a shame the opportunity to vote is not used by many Europeans and that voter turnout has been decreasing. However, the European Parliament elections this time might get the electorate participating, as now there have been more discussions on European issues than five years ago. Still many perceive the European elections as 28 national elections executed at the same time. Nevertheless, this time it is different, as the European Parliament slogan reads, as more is at stake and citizens initiatives and projects such as Poll Watch, Electio2014, Electionista and Happy voting try to get the citizens involved and to the polling booths.

4. What has to change in Europe is that the institutions must be more responsible, accountable and transparent. The economy must be gotten back on track to provide more jobs, growth and opportunities – especially for the young people who are unemployed. The blame game between national ministers saying all negative things are caused by the EU and simply taking credit for the positive things as their own accomplishments needs to stop. With power comes responsibility for all actions. The human rights issues and political disputes in our neighboring countries such as Ukraine, Libya, Egypt and Syria need to be addressed by the EU as stability in the border region is essential. The voice of the entire union is much heavier than those of individual member states, as has been stated on numerous occasions. There needs to be political leadership to tackle the tougher issues and stand up for the basic principles of human rights, the rule of law, democracy and stability which are the core values of Europe. To concretely make the EU simpler, the “president” titles should be changed as it can create confusion with the president of the European External Action Service, the president of the Council, the president of the Commission, the president of the European Parliament and the president of the Committee of the Regions. The European Union should change to be more democratic, redefined and show to the younger generations why cooperation on several levels is important.

5. Prejudices I am confronted with being Finnish begin with appearance “you can’t be Finnish as you don’t have blond hair and blue eyes”, continue with the accent “you don’t sound Finnish, Finns speak English like Mika Häkkinen or Kimi Räikkönen” and with being “Finns are supposed to be silent and introvert”. How we really are is far from the stereotypes and this is the case for all nationalities. In every European country there are countless different personalities, people and appearances. Even if I don’t fit into the mold of the “stereotypical Finn” I am still proud to be from Finland and embrace the labels of my nationality. Plus I find it quite amusing when people try to guess my nationality and are far south. Another prejudice I come across is at seminars or conferences in Brussels. I often lower the average age as well as bring a bit of gender balance – thus it is even more important to be visible and have the courage to speak up in the questions and answers bit, as otherwise they are dominated by middle aged men. Stereotypes and prejudgment can seem to be reassuring when encountering new people from a different country, culture or religion the first time. This way you can safely put the person into a box, to know a bit what to expect from the person, as he or she is from that country. Everyone has some sort of prejudice even if they do not admit it, it may be a subconscious thought. Realizing that we all have prejudice is the first step to being able to be open to new encounters, different cultures and have positive curiosity.