Next year’s European Elections will mark a watershed moment for the EU’s future. All across the continent, established political balances of power are turned upside down while a long-standing consensus is called into question.
Moreover, the European Elections have seen meager average rates of participation in the last three decades, with 2014 seeing only 42.6% turnout across the EU28.
Young voters are often accused of indifference and of failing to go to the ballot box. We here at the European Student Think Tank therefore dedicated this year’s campaign to the upcoming elections. Our campaign—entitled Your vote, your Europe—seeks to mobilise young European voters, make the tireless efforts of young Europeans visible, stress the importance of the elections and give young people a voice.
That is why, as part of our first Common Article launching the Your vote, your Europe campaign, we asked our Ambassadors to reflect on the upcoming European Elections and the challenges they might bring about. We wanted to hear their thoughts on which issues would define the elections, whether young people felt like their vote counts and why some young Europeans would not vote and how that might be changed. We strongly believe that there is reason to look toward what lies ahead of our generation with hope and a belief in amelioration.
Common Articles aim to offer our readers the opportunity to contrast many different perspectives on the same topic. On behalf of the International Office, I hope you enjoy the reading.
European Student Think Tank
Sweden: A Swedish Perspective on the Matter of Voting, and Reasons for Not Voting
Does a small country like Sweden, really have any influence in the European Union? Do we as a young Swedes personally get affected by EU politics?
Research shows that it is more common to find a young European citizen who will not vote in the European Election than one who will, and Sweden is no exception. Why do young Swedes, in a country that has high significant national electoral participation, not use their votes in the European election?
There are various answers to this. It is evident that electoral participation interests are determined by residence location of the voters i.e large cities, rural areas or small cities. Among young Swedes, socioeconomic background tends to affect electoral participation, for example, people who are lowly educated and low-income earner, do not vote as high as people with higher education and highly paid. In general, young Swedes who do not to vote are distanced from European policy-making processes. There is also a lack of basic knowledge about what EU actually does and how the policy-decisions affect people’s everyday life. Further, it’s said that there is an absence of young nominees to the European Parliament and the high average age of MEPs creates a distance from young people (SVT, 2014).
In 2009, only one of four young Swedes was using their vote in the European Election (LSU, 2009). Happily, the voter turnout has increased over the last election. In the 2014 election, the electoral participation increased with 7 percent among the ages 18-29 (SCB, 2015). It will indeed be interesting to see how the electoral participation in the European Election of 2019 will develop.
Spain: A Common Responsibility to a Common Project
Having a youth unemployment rate of 38.6% which is twice the European average of 16,8% (Eurostat, 2017) is clearly the most pressing concern among Spain’s young people. In addition to that, Spain’s youth is concerned about having better future perspectives of political and economic stability. Thirdly, the possibility to enhance personal development with access to equal opportunities is also among the youth concerns for the 2019 European Elections.
Yet, the participation in the EU voting process has decreased over the years. As the 2018 Eurobarometer shows, there is still a 48% of Spanish young’s population (15-24 years old) which are predicted not to vote in 2019. The lack of participation can be a result of the prevailing thought that EU decisions are not addressing real youth interests and their vote is not counting, together with the distrust to the political system.
Having clear ideas of our preoccupations and knowing that voting is one of the fundamental steps in democracy to reach a solution, the situation can and must be reversed. Solutions to motivate young people who participate in the EU’s elections involves multiple factors: political programmes should include young people’s interests. Simultaneously, media and civil society (associations, universities, youth organizations…) must emphasize the decisive role of participation. To complement this and increase young’s interest, the inclusion of EU debates and an explanation of its the EU’s impact in our daily life is today more needed than ever.
Otherwise, an uninformed society on their possibilities is condemned to be ignorant and manipulated. The EU common project depends on our common responsibility: our votes and involvement!
Reinforcing the Democratic Responsibilities of European Youth
As Europe confronts an increasing number of social, political and economic challenges, it requires additional support from its citizens: every vote counts during this particularly volatile time.
Sometimes we feel that the small decisions we make do not have an impact on the bigger picture, especially in regards to such a complex organization as the EU. We tend to think that our opinions will not materialise into anything, that our voice will be ignored and cast aside, but this could not be further from the truth.
The upcoming European elections face a growing concern of how to attract more young people to go out and vote at the ballot box. To address this issue, the EU must educate its populace so that they are aware of the how, when and why they should vote. We must mobilise and encourage a well-informed youth who know the power of their vote, and give them the opportunity to choose a better future. More effort should be put on motivating young people to become interested in European ideas and policy. Why do European politics matter? How can it affect their daily lives? Why are elections important for European youth? If we were able to provide an answer to these questions, people would realise the value of participating actively in the discourse and political process of the EU.
We must put to an end the idea that voting will not change anything because as history has proven, voting changes everything. A firm belief in democracy is the reason why many of us make the effort to exercise our right to vote, and the youth must take advantage of this hard-earnt access to influence political decision-making. In fact, as young people hold more positive attitudes towards the EU than past generations, their weak presence at the polling stations actually benefits parties that are more critical of EU integration. Increasing the percentage of young people who vote in European elections will help to counteract the rise of nationalist and eurosceptic movements, who deny the concept of European citizenship and are against further integration of the EU.
Europe and European elections are important. This time, it’s not enough for us to hope for a greater future, this time we need to take responsibility for it.
Slovenia: What are the reasons why some young people do not vote, and how can they be motivated to go to the ballot box?
The voting process represents a crucial element that defines a population’s future and especially impacts the youth. However, in almost every European country, young people continue to demonstrate a relative lack of interest or mistrust toward politics. Some parts of the young population manifested their dissatisfaction toward politics while others seemed unwilling to inform themselves regarding elections and political institutions. Among the reasons that push the youth away from the political realm are the negative image of politics, the dissatisfaction with the political system and culture, and the gap between promises and results that lead to significant disillusions. Based on the opinion of young people, politicians do not focus on their social needs or on the struggles of integrating society. Instead, young people believe that politicians have more egocentric aspirations. Nevertheless, one way of motivating young people to go to the ballots would be to raise awareness about the importance of their participation. Since young people demonstrate a lack of confidence toward politics, politicians should become more reachable and should initiate more consultation and discussion with the youth regarding their daily life issues. Young people need to be convinced that their vote plays a major role in the decision-making process within their country’s political institutions.
For young British voters, the upcoming European Election might be exceptionally interesting – especially since it is the first time since 1979 that British citizens cannot vote due to the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU two months before election day. Brexit has exposed a generational gulf between the country’s youth and the older generations (Cosslett, 26 June 2016). Young people in the UK, who voted overwhelmingly to Remain, feel that they have not been sufficiently been listened to and consequently have been robbed of their future. Additionally, evidence shows that youth turnout has steadily declined since 1992, culminating with only 7% of votes cast in 2005. Nonetheless, 18-24-year-olds have turned out in much greater numbers as they perceived national elections as ever consequential: 64% of young Brits took part in the last general election in 2017 (Burn-Murdoch, 20 June 2017).
UK politicians should start to demonstrate an authentic interest in our generation’s concerns, and engage in a serious conversation to address them. The 2017 General Election is an example of a missed opportunity to address the concerns of this demographic. Electoral viable, but politically and economically difficult to implement, some of the campaign promises (e.g. free tuition fees, legalisation of cannabis, the re-run of the 2016 referendum) are the perfect example. Rather than exploiting low youth turnout to push their needs to the bottom of the political agenda, efforts must be made to pursue policies that could truly affect our livelihoods and futures – affordable housing, youth services and an education system actually prepare students for life.
LSU Report. 2009. David ska få unga att rösta i EU-valet. Götalands Allehanda.
http://www.helagotland.se/start/david-ska-fa-unga-att-rosta-i-eu-valet-4970687.aspx (downloaded 2018-10-21).
Statistiska Centralbyrån (SCB). 2015. Ökat valdeltagande bland unga och äldre. http://www.scb.se/hitta-statistik/statistik-efter-amne/demokrati/allmanna-val/allmanna-val-valdeltagandeundersokningen/pong/statistiknyhet/allmanna-val-valdeltagandeundersokningen2/ (downloaded 2018-10-22).
SVT. 2014. Unga och lågutbildade minst intresserade av EU-valet. https://www.svt.se/nyheter/val2014/eu-valet-inget-for-laginkomstagare (downloaded 2018-10-22).
Democracy on the move – European Elections: One year to go. (2018). Excel Data Available at: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/at-your-service/en/be-heard/eurobarometer/eurobarometer-2018-democracy-on-the-move.
Ec.europa.eu. (2018). Unemployment statistics – Statistics Explained. [online] Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php?title=Unemployment_statistics#Youth_unemployment.