Engaging Europe’s youth in EU elections:
Are their voices being heard?

Europe’s youth represent the continent’s future, yet traditionally account for the lowest turnout in EU elections with only 24% of 18- to 24-year olds voting in the last European Parliament elections. With less than two months until the 2019 elections in May, Debating Europe and The Coca-Cola Company joined forces to host a lively discussion exploring how the EU can stay relevant, relatable and connected to Europe’s youth.

The diverse panel agreed that young Europeans may fear their perspectives aren’t heard, having themselves encountered perceptions that they lack sufficient experience in politics. Despite this, the panel believes youth are highly motivated to help address core societal issues and are increasingly embracing innovative campaigning approaches, particularly aided by digital communications. The panel proposed actions Europe’s younger generation can take to ensure their voices are heard, including becoming more engaged in wider topics that have traditionally been of interest to older generations. Their ideas also considered what Europe’s incumbent politicians could do to address the needs of today’s ‘Generation Z’.

Highlighting how the biggest challenges affecting young people’s futures – such as climate change and migration – are debated through a national context, MEP for Italy Elly Schlein felt long-term global challenges “must be explored at a European level.” She also spoke of her fears that many young Europeans “feel their vote won’t make a difference.” When asked whether young people are sometimes overshadowed by an ageing Europe, she felt the views of youth are always considered respected by more established politicians. With that in mind, Elly called on young people to feel empowered to participate, saying: “It is our responsibility and opportunity to advance the ideas of the founding fathers and mothers of the EU.”

“There is considerable interest amongst young people to participate in politics,” said Founder of ThinkYoung, Andrea Gerosa, drawing attention to grassroots campaigning on key issues. Questioning how to channel this into votes, he suggested politicians can further open their parties to “younger faces” and wider topics, such as education, start-ups, and mobility. Andrea called on Europe’s youth to “be so noisy that you eventually convince others” and to “take the risk and jump into politics,” including engaging on unfamiliar topics that affect other generations. Proclaiming that “now is the time for positive disruption,” he felt these steps would eventually create “a new way of ‘doing’ politics.”

Katrina Koppel, Vice President of the European Students’ Union also felt Europe’s youth needs to get involved now before the pace of climate change means it is too late. While Katrina sees youth engagement on social media as powerful, she is concerned that they’re not always taken seriously. Older people can no longer simply tell young people they “don’t know enough yet” or “their time will come,” she declared. “Voting at 16” and better communications can be part of the solution, said Katrina, citing Erasmus as an example of young people being listened to “because they are the group most involved.”  

When asked about his views on lowering the voting age to 16, President of the European Student Think Tank Aurélien Pommier remarked how it would naturally result in more direct political engagement. Like others, he was keen to dispel the myth that young people aren’t involved in politics, Aurélien confirmed the panel view that Europe’s youth are “using other channels to be active” before listing three essentials for engaging young Europeans in politics: an online public space for young people to participate, positive communications around EU achievements and for politicians to “go digital and go speak the language of young people.”

Join the discussion on the Debating Europe Facebook page and via the online debate. Share your thoughts on what needs to be done to engage young Europeans and ensure their voices are heard.

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