The involvement of young people in EU politics and their underrepresentation was the focus of the conference” Missing a generation in EU politics: How to involve young Europeans?” organised by FutureLab Europe, a programme operated by the European Policy Centre. László Andor, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, Sandra Petrović Jakovina, Member of the European Parliament (S&D Group), Jávor Benedek, Candidate for the European elections (Greens) and Konstantinos Kyranakis, President of the Youth European People’s Party gave their opinion on the subject and contributed to the animated and interesting debate which followed the presentations.
Janis Emmanouilidis, Director of studies at the European Policy Centre opened the conference by presenting three reasons to address this subject: the crisis, which particularly affects the youth generation, the elections, which are an opportunity to discuss things and provide orientations for the future of Europe and finally the fact that important decisions would be taken in the upcoming period.
Presentation of the FutureLab Europe report “Missing a generation on EU politics – How to involve young people?”
Dorit Fauck and Sandra Grindgärds from FutureLab Europe provided key figures to the public and presented the results of a survey they carried out throughout Europe. In 2009, only 29 % of people under the age of 24 voted at the European elections. In addition, currently, out of 766 MEPs, only 2 are under the age of 30. On the basis of the survey results, four main causes were identified. Firstly, young people don’t see the importance of voting. Secondly, too few young people are represented in the office. Thirdly, there is a lack of discussion on subjects in which young people are interested in (i.e. education, mobility, etc.). Finally, the lack of information and communication affects young Europeans’ voting habits.
Presentation of László Andor, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and inclusion.
László Andor underlined the fact that the low participation of young people is a real problem. Their involvement and participation should be stronger. According to him, their weak representation is the consequence of political socialization in the national context, which means it takes time for young people to understand what happens at a European level. Commissioner László Andor also mentioned the effects of the crisis and how it pushed unemployment to a high level in the EU, reaching 30% in the euro zone. The young generation has disproportionally been hit by the crisis and the European Commission has done its best to come up with initiatives (“Youth on the move”, better labour mobility) to overcome this problem. He concluded by stating that the young generation needs and deserves a better Europe.
During the debate, Sandra Petrović Jakovina, Member of the European Parliament (S&D Group), Jávor Benedek, Candidate for the European elections (Greens) and Konstantinos Kyranakis, President of the Youth European People’s Party were asked to answer to these questions: what are the reasons for low participation? What can be done? What could and should the EU do in the next political cycle?
According to Sandra Petrović Jakovina, becoming a young politician is not difficult but staying involved, however is really hard. She also claimed that young people involved in politics are not recognized as capable of taking serious decisions, especially in the EU. In Croatia, young people don’t vote because they think their opinion doesn’t matter. She concluded by giving the example of non- EU countries such as Serbia which give the opportunity to young people to take part in politics.
Jávor Benedek explained the reasons which pushed him to run for elections. According to him, there’s a deep and important problem within the EU and the good answers haven’t been found yet. His wish would be to become a partner in order to find the good answers and more specifically dig into the issue of youth unemployment. Jávor Benedek highlighted several points on which the EU should focus: (1) the missing generation in politics at a local and national level. In his view, the general trust to the democratic institution is fragile. Young people don’t relate to politics because it doesn’t deal with their issues or problems. In his opinion, young people see great promises in politics but very small steps are taken. They expect fast reactions and results. (2) There is not only a missed generation in politics but also in “democratic” politics. He claims that the nature of extreme right has shifted and that is has become attractive for young people. (3) Young people are not active in European politics because of the path the European project has taken. Most of the people regard the EU bureaucratic institutions with distance and don’t feel the EU project is dealing with their future. The challenge would be to convince people that Europe is about their future.
Konstantinos Kyranakis focused his attention on the European legislative procedure, stating that it was too complicated. In his view, the long-term solution for engaging young people would be to get back to basics and create a simple Europe which decides fast.
An animated and interesting debate went on for more than one hour during which the speakers clearly answered to the questions and put forward their opinions on various matters. Anna Karolin closed the debate by stating it wasn’t a time for despair and that the demonization of politics was wrong. EU citizens should take the time to find politicians in which they believe and vote at the elections.