Dimitris Rapidis

Despite frequent references over EU’s ageing population, European Commission’s Youth Report for 2012 brings some useful information. According to the data, in January 2011 around 95.2 million young people aged between 15-29 lived in the EU-27. The acceding country of Croatia as well as the five candidate member-states from Eastern Balkans are expected to add some 22 million more to this figure, thus importantly increasing the overall rate. In an EU of 500 million people, we believe that more of the one fifth of the population being considered as youth is not something to let by.

Using this valuable information and bring it into the ongoing debate over the forthcoming elections for the European Parliament next May, we certainly reckon for a more delicate approach over the increasing abstention rates over the last electorate processes. For the big majority, the European Union, and hence Eurozone, have turned to be a deserted area where political decisions are taken without prior consultation from the public. This is not something new, but adding it into the deliberation over voting participation, it engenders some new perspectives over the previous and the next electoral processes: is youth abstaining from voting, and if yes, why is this phenomenon occurring?

Acccording to the latest report (December 2013) of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), in previous EU Parliament Elections on 2009 political parties failed to address young people, as only 18% of the 18-24 year old voted. This inevitably leaves young people marginalized and alienated from politics in the European Union, as the majority of the Parliament is representative of the concerns of older voters. In this respect, would someone going to predict a major shift in this trend heading to the elections for the European Parliament on May?

Nevertheless, there is an additional feature in the analysis of voting participation, and this stems from the appealing character that extreme right parties in the EU member-states have for young people. From Hungary to Poland, and from UK and France down to Greece, extreme right comes to fill in the space of political representation left avoid from the other parties of the spectrum. The most important reason for this appeal in young generation is as simple as that: fragmenting rhetoric that is turned against mainstream parties and policies that have engendered sky-rocketed unemployment and poverty. In addition, extreme right parties are taking advantage of the migration debate in order to create frustration over the negative effects of excessive migration in Europe, and thus increasing xenophobic feelings.

Extreme right is also bidding on “masculinism” and annihilation without providing any political alternative that can last. But this is something young people cannot perceive in many cases, being fanatically incorporated in the ideology of hate and making blind accusations against the entire political system. In this respect, the growing power of extreme right parties is also stemming from the memories of the youth: nobody has experienced the atrocities of the Nazis in Europe, even if many young people have at least one survival or Nazi fighter in their household.

The missing point here is that memory is not capitalized nor infiltrated without prior and direct experience. Therefore, the risk that extreme right might reach historically high rates in the forthcoming elections in European-wide level is imminent and real. And it would be even worse, if this electoral support would stem from the young people.

The easy way would be for the European Parliament to adopt by majority a binding legislation for every member-state to ban extreme right parties and restrain them from the political process. The hard way would be to launch a European awareness campaign against extreme right. Both ways might be efficient short-term, but the core issue remains unaddressed: the European institutional framework is still badly-shaped, and the effect of this structure is the major factor that impedes young people from participating in the political processes and reclaim a democratic and bottom-up transformation of political participation and its impact on decision-making.

*This article was first published on Bridging Europe, in the framework of the EU Elections 2014 Project. For more information, please visit the website.

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