Missing a generation in EU politics How to involve young Europeans? Summary

Missing a generation in EU politics
How to involve young Europeans?
[email protected] on 7 April 2014
The European Policy Centre and FutureLab Europe
brought together many bright minds from across Europe
for this 12th [email protected] to launch the report:
Missing a generation in European politics – how to
involve young Europeans?, which focused on the
involvement of the younger generations in the
forthcoming European elections and on EU affairs in
general. It was presented to László Andor, the
European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs
and Inclusion, who also gave a keynote speech. A
panel debate with three politically active young people
Full Report
Janis Emmanouilidis, EPC Director of Studies, introduced this 12th [email protected], co-organised by the
EPC and FutureLab Europe – which brings together 10 civil society foundations focused on equal
opportunities, democratic participation and identity-related issues facing young people today. He noted that the
topic was very timely for three reasons:
1. The crisis has disproportionately affected young people and the statistics on youth unemployment
attest to that. “The sense of despair, frustration, anger and nihilism makes some young people ask
if they have a future”, he said. It is for this reason that young people wonder if voting makes any
difference and why then it is vital to consider their involvement in politics.
2. The upcoming elections and the change in the entire EU leadership presents an opportunity to
bring forward ideas at both national and European levels to discuss how to address the issues of
today’s disaffected youth.
3. Many important decisions will be taken in the upcoming period and it is vital to discuss youth
involvement in politics. “It is the right time”, he said.
Sven Tetzlaff, Head of Department of Education at the Körber Foundation, which is part of the European
Alliance for Democratic Citizenship supporting FutureLab Europe, asked what it means when a whole
generation of young Europeans are missing from politics and what can be done to get them involved. He
enumerated several challenges to the underrepresentation of young people in politics, which he termed
“alarming”. This can be observed on two levels he said:
1. At a direct level, youth today do not take part in politics. Only one third of young people under 35
went out to vote in the last European Parliament elections in 2009
2. At the indirect level – there is a clear lack of representation of young Europeans in politics. In the
EP parliament less than 10% of MEPs are under 39 years of age.
Tetzlaff explained that this was a problem for two reasons:
1. The lack of involvement of young people takes place when the stakes have never been higher and
in an environment of high youth unemployment. The pressure on government services such as
education and the decline of the welfare state means that the young generation is particularly
affected, he said.
2. In light of the current demographics – the under representation of youth is likely to increase
because Europe is greying. In 2050 nearly 40% of the EU population will be 60 years old, he said.
“If those who are young are expected to make a contribution to the future of Europe, then we need to find
ways to include topics affecting youth into the debate and in the decision-making process”, he said.
“FutureLab Europe wants to make a contribution and encourage young people to bring forward ideas about
the future of Europe”. He explained that FutureLab Europe brings together members from 26 countries –
even some which are not yet EU members “as we are convinced it is important to involve these young
people in a dialogue about democracy, participation and identity”, he concluded.
Anna Karolin, representing FutureLab Europe and co-facilitator of the event, explained that the purpose of
FutureLab Europe was for young people “to lead and be led and to promote political participation in
Europe”. She said FutureLab Europe was about “discussion, debate, learning and experience”, with the
aim of getting more young people engaged in politics. Amongst other activities, members are active in
writing articles for major newspapers in Europe on the issues that affect youth. Right now FutureLab
Europe is busy generating interest for the upcoming European Parliament elections, she said.
Dorit Fauck and Sandra Grindgärds from FutureLab Europe, formally presented the report which they
authored Missing a generation in EU politics – How to involve young Europeans? to László Andor,
the European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion. Fauck and Grindgärds also spoke
about the challenging situation of low youth involvement in the political process, noting that out of 766
MEPs, only two are under the age of 30. Furthermore, only 29% of young people under the age of 24 and
only 36% between 25 and 30 voted in the last European Parliament elections.
Fauck and Grindgärds asked what could be done to improve youth participation. “The European Parliament
is the democratic flagship in the EU”, and therefore elections are a vital democratic element, Fauck said. “If
a generation is missing in European politics or a certain group are structurally excluded from the system or
are not participating, then democratic legitimacy is undermined”, she added.
The study, based an online survey across Europe, drew over 1,000 respondents. Four root causes were
identified for the lack of youth political participation:
1. Elections and EU politics are insufficiently politicised. Youth don’t see how their vote will affect
European politics;
2. Too few young people are represented in the political process. Indeed, only 2% of young people
are members of a political party;
3. Lack of topics which affect young people are being debated in politics. Topics of interest to youth
include: education, employment,
environmental protection, citizen
participation and mobility; and
4. Lack of information and
communication on the issues
which affect young Europeans and
how this has an effect on their
voting habits. This was identified
as the most important cause for
their reluctance to vote.
The FutureLab Europe report identifies three concrete recommendations to get young Europeans more
involved in the political process:
1. Organise truly pan-European debates - talking about European issues which affect youth, instead
of focusing only on national or local issues
2. Strengthen representation of young Europeans. Political parties should pay more attention to
subjects of interest to young Europeans and put in place programmes to nurture young politicians.
3. Improve information on elections. Campaigns at national and European levels should outline plans
to engage with youth. Clear information should be made available on the candidates and election
programme. Information on how the EU works should also be included.
“Low participation is a challenge which needs to be faced”, Grindgärds said.
Commissioner Andor, starting out by noting that the “European Commission is better known for doing policy
rather than politics – but at the time of elections, we need to strengthen our involvement at the European
level within national politics”, as the political debates take place in the national languages and focus on
national issues. “It takes time to learn about European debates and the European context”, noting that
often European issues, such as the monetary crisis, are very complex, he said.
However, despite the Nobel Prize to the European Union recognising its role in securing peace on this
continent, there are many reasons behind the low participation rates of young people in European
elections. “Even if we take peace for granted, this motivation is today much weaker”, he said. “If you do not
participate, then decisions will be taken without you, and this will also mean that the decision will almost
always be taken at your expense”, he said.
The Commissioner noted in particular the unprecedented levels of European unemployment, with an
average of around 12% in the Eurozone, but where it can be twice as high in the periphery. “What is even
more dramatic”, he said, “is that the increase of youth unemployment is faster than the increase in the
overall unemployment rate”. What this means, he said, is that the young generation has been hit
This, he said, has triggered a number of initiatives from the European institutions over the last four years,
including the Youth Guarantee, a new approach to tackling youth unemployment which ensures that all
young people under 25 – whether registered with employment services or not – get a good-quality,
concrete offer within four months of them leaving formal education or becoming unemployed.
The Commissioner also cited the Commission’s Youth on the Move flagship initiative, which is part of the
Europe 2020 strategy. Youth on the Move is a comprehensive package of policy initiatives which aims to
improve young people’s education and employability, reduce high youth unemployment and increase the
youth-employment rate. This it seeks to do by:
 Making education and training
more relevant to young
people's needs;
 Encouraging more of them to
take advantage of EU grants to
study or train in another
 Encouraging EU countries to
take measures by simplifying
the transition from education to
The Commissioner further noted that the budget of the Erasmus programme has been increased by 40%
even when the overall European budget was cut in nominal terms (although acknowledging that the
increase had originally been set at 70%). “Student mobility is one of the best benefits of the EU and what it
can provide to young people”, he said.
The Commission also promoted its Youth Opportunities Initiative in 2011 to ensure that the structural
funds would benefit young people in the eight countries with the highest levels of youth unemployment. The
Commission also put forward a quality framework for traineeships – with learning content and written
contracts, he said.
“Labour mobility for young people”, he said, “is part of the solution to high youth unemployment”. In
particular, he cited the Commission’s EURES (European Employment Service) programme, which seeks to
align job seekers with jobs across the European Economic Area and Switzerland. He noted that in surveys,
at least half of young people were interested in working in another country if the opportunity was there.
“Many young people have become economically mobilised”, he said. “But the big risk to politics is if they
become politically demobilised as a result of working in a country distant from their home. This is an
additional hurdle whether studying or working in another country is a barrier to political participation”, he
There has to be some encouragement for young people so that they can learn about the policies which
directly affect them, he said. “One thing is sure is that young people deserve a better Europe”, he
The Commissioner was asked a lot of questions from various members of FutureLab Europe, starting with
what he would do differently if he could start his mandate again. He answered that instead of the predicted
recovery in 2011, we had another recession, and acknowledged a forecasting failure. “The decisions in the
Commission and Council could have been better if the forecasting had been better”, he replied.
The Commissioner was also asked about the anti-immigration debate and the stigmatising of Romanians
and Bulgarians – especially youth from those countries. How has the European Commission fought against
the discriminatory behaviour of some Member States? The Commissioner acknowledged the “annoying”
national debates about what he termed “non issues” such as benefits tourism, “which is largely a myth,
disproportionate and appalling”. The Commission has presented evidence that a migrant workforce makes
a net contribution to the budget, so he considers it “atrocious” when national politicians try to exploit this
topic, using it to generate a broader anti-EU feeling. He called on responsible voices in each country to
counter these false arguments. In November the Commission adopted a communication designed to
resolve the tensions regarding the free movement of mobile workers. He said there were financial
resources within these countries but also the European social funds designed to address any additional
costs associated with migrants and their families.
The Commissioner was asked to comment on the situation with regards youth unemployment in Croatia –
which currently stands at 49.85% and whether there might be EC funds to help with any programmes to
tackle this major challenge. The Commissioner answered that the labour market in Croatia was not very
flexible and that too much emphasis had been placed on defending the interests of older people and war
veterans. His underlying message was that young people need to get organised in Croatia to push for their
A panel of three politically active young people took part to discuss issues related to the concerns of young
Europeans. It was composed of: Sandra Petrovic Jakovina, MEP (S&D Group) from Croatia; Benedek
Javor, Candidate for the European elections, Greens, from Hungary; and Konstantinos Kyranakis,
President of the Youth European People’s Party (EPP), from Greece.
Petrovic Jakovina, who is one of two MEPs under the age of 30 started her political career as a member
of the Croatian Parliament when she was only 26. She explained some of the challenges of being such a
young female politician. When she became a candidate for the European Parliament with the enlargement
of Croatia, she was 5th on her party’s list. However, for the upcoming elections, she has gone down to 8 th,
meaning that it is unlikely that she will get in. “It is very difficult for young people to stay in politics”, she
Young people, Petrovic Jakovina said, are not recognised as being able to take decisions these days. She
also noted that young people are not eager to go out and vote: “They think simply that their opinion does
not matter”. She added that it was political marketing, in her view, that is the most important cause of
European turnout but that “this leaves space for manipulation”. Unfortunately, “young people don’t feel a
motivation to organise and take a stake in their community”, she said.
Benedek Javor, who is running for a seat in the upcoming European Parliament elections, said he would
like to be a “partner in finding the right answers” to the deep and important problems we face in Europe. To
answer the question as to why there is a missing generation of young people in European politics, he
offered this analysis:
1. There isn’t a missing generation in EU youth politics, but rather a missing generation in politics at
national level.
2. There is a question of trust. Polls show that the lowest trust is experienced among the younger
3. Young people feel that politics is not about their real problems and their issues, and anyway it is
not expressed in their language. He also noted that often even when youth get involved, such as in
the debate on climate change, nothing concrete happens.
Javor characterised youth policy as a “game reserve for endangered species” where we push all the
problems. “Young people want to participate in politics in general, not just in youth policy”, he said. He
noted also with some despair the success of the extreme right in Hungarian politics. “The extreme right is
now attractive to lots of young people and democratic parties are not able to reach out to them”, he said.
Javor also explained why in his view young people are not very involved in European politics. “The problem
is the EU project. Originally the EU project was about imagining the future of the continent. But young
people no longer see the European project as being about their future”, he said. Green politics were more
“inclusive” – about bringing politics closer to EU citizens. “It is future oriented”, he said.
Konstantinos Kyranakis, while active in European politics, was not running in this year’s campaign. He
said the EPP had a very strong youth component, with over one million young people involved, including
more than 150 young members of national parliaments. He said that despite leading the largest youth
political organisation, “trying to implement a policy which we believe is good is almost impossible to make
Like the Commissioner, he said that “If we are not engaged as young people, then decisions will be made
without us”. The time that young people are engaged in youth politics, around two years, is insufficient as
EU decisions take much longer. “We need to get back to basics and build a Europe which is simpler and
easier to understand and which can take decisions faster”, he said.
In the question and answer session which followed, the panel were given the opportunity to expand on their
ideas of how to achieve greater youth participation in politics.
The panel was asked who should take the decision on the question of composing the national party lists for
each election. Kyranakis said it was a preferential vote system in Greece with internal discussions at party
level based on congress
procedures. Javor said
that in Hungary each
party had its own
regulations and that the
Greens had a one-third
quota for women.
Petrovic Jakovina said
the party leaders
presented the candidates
to the main board. With
respect to her party in
Croatia, it had four out of
11 female candidates, but
only one young person,
herself, in 8th position.
The panel was asked who they felt they were representing. Petrovic Jakovina, as the only elected
European politician present, said she was representing young people with social democratic values and
beliefs. She was particularly proud of having voted to increase the Erasmus budget for 2014-2020 by 40%.
The panel members were also asked if they thought they reached the youth when campaigning. Petrovic
Jakovina answered that young people’s “awareness and eagerness” when it came to European politics
was not a given. She said she used Twitter and Facebook a lot to try to emphasise issues which concern
youth. Javor said direct action, like flash mobs, were useful to getting attention to issues which attract the
attention of young people, and described hanging down from a bridge in Budapest to criticise nuclear
power in his country. “Thousands of people clicked on my Facebook page”, he said. Kyranakis said the
Juncker team was running the most youth oriented campaign at EU level, citing the role of young EPP
members who prepared amendments for the EPP group’s platform and presented these at their congress
in Dublin. He also mentioned a bus road trip leaving from four European capitals as a way of reaching out
to young people.
The panel was also asked about what could be done to counter the attraction of extreme parties to young
people. Petrovic Jakovina said this was not the right time for populism. Javor said we should not learn
anything from the extreme right other than to understand why the existing system is not responding to the
needs of those who feel disaffected. “We need to explain that those simple and bad answers are not the
right answers. We need to find better answers for those fears and frustrations”, he said. Kyranakis
countered: “The Far Right is doing nothing right. We give them too much attention. When governments do
their jobs and citizens are prosperous then extremes are low”, he said.
The panel was also asked about impediments to voting in the European Parliament elections. The
moderator Karolin offered that in her country, it was possible to vote online. Javor said the current
Conservative government in Hungary made it extremely difficult to vote abroad. “I propose the Estonian
model. I believe deeply in electronic democracy”.
Finally, the panel was asked about the professionalisation of politics – choosing politics as a career.
Petrovic Jakovina said she would probably leave politics while still continue to encourage youth
involvement. “I believe the question of having young people on the list should not be a question of
percentages”, she said. Kyranakis said those who wish to get into politics ought to first live the life of an
entrepreneur or employee to better understand the needs of ordinary people.