Tuesday

20th Aug 2019

Happy young Finns don't vote in EU elections

  • For 21-year old Aino Kaarto and 24-year old Iida Heinonen it is important to vote. It is part of adulthood and taking responsibility as a citizen. Yet, they have limited knowledge about their local candidates

In 2014, not even a third of Europe´s young voters participated in the European Parliament elections.

Perhaps surprisingly, Finland was one of the member states with the lowest turnout among youngsters. Here, only 10.4 percent cast their vote.

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  • When 23-year old Patricia Torvalds goes to the voting booth, she will vote against the right-wing movement gaining momentum in European politics. She wishes for more immigration- and climate-friendly policies

While minimal media coverage and a lack of knowledge about the candidates, and about how the EU works, seem to lower the turnout among the youngest generation of voters in all the 28 member states, one is tempted to ask: what is particular about Finland, considering that in neighbouring Sweden and Denmark the figures are 65.5 percent and 38.2 percent, respectively.

In fact, youth participation remains an under-researched area.

A general satisfaction with the status quo of EU membership in Finland can explain why youngsters do not feel like they need to change anything, according to Janette Huttunen, PhD candidate in youth political participation at Abo Akademi University in Turku, Finland.

"All the good things we get with the membership, are so natural and self-evident for young people, that they do not find it necessary to vote. Young people have grown up as members of the EU and therefore see benefits like Erasmus, free movement and the euro as a natural part of their lives," she says.

In Turku, a neat university town in the south-west of Finland, the streets are decorated with political posters of the EU-candidates. Yet many young locals are still unsure who they will vote for, or if they will vote.

"I have a few candidates that I am going to choose from. But I don't really know, what they are discussing in the EU. It feels very far away from us here in Finland," says 24-year old Iida Heinonen, who works as a waitress in Turku.

Her friend Aino Kaarto remains undecided. She is 21, and this is the first time she can vote in the European elections.

"Actually, I have not thought about it. But maybe I will vote. I am not that interested in politics," she says.

The lack of enthusiasm to go vote stands in contrast to the young Finns enthusiasm with the EU itself.

According to the spring 2019 Eurobarometer, 76 percent in the age group 15-24 would vote to remain in the EU in case of a referendum.

The Finns are generally very positive about the EU, with 66 percent saying that the membership of the EU is good thing, and 74 percent believing that their country has benefitted from membership.

Finnish research expert in citizenship and EU institutions, Marco Svensson La Rosa, agrees that political satisfaction plays an important role in the low voter turnout. He adds that in Finland it is reinforced by a lack of political debate on youth issues, such as education or unemployment.

Happy apathy?

Currently, Finland ranks as the happiest country in the world.

According to Huttunen, the Finns are also shaped by a culture of staying silent, if there are no evident problems. The attitude is "if something is not broken, then why fix it?", she says.

Whereas in neighbouring countries Sweden and Denmark, young people are schooled to voice their opinion. "I think our Scandinavian neighbours are better at teaching young people about the importance of participation and democracy," she explains.

Finland is far behind its Scandinavian neighbour countries when it comes to getting youngsters to vote. In Sweden, the turnout in 2014 was at 65.5 percent, while Denmark had a more modest 38.2 percent.

If one looks at the turnout for EU elections at the national level, Finland was below average at the last election, where the turnout was 39.1 percent, whereas it averaged 42.6 percent in the Union.

Back in Turku, 23-year old university student Patricia Torvalds tells how important it is for her to vote. "We are a part of the EU, and if I am part of something, I want to affect what is happening," she says.

In her network, everybody votes. However, she does not think it is a problem if youngsters who are satisfied refrain from voting. "It is a problem, if people are not happy with the way the system is run," she notes.

At the student union of Helsinki University, they nonetheless make a great effort to engage the students in the upcoming elections. Their newsletter is filled with reminders to go vote, and they recently created a panel discussion for the EU candidates.

"The EU has a lot of impact, especially on young people, since we are the future," says board member Linda-Liisa Kelokari.

"For example, the climate crisis is a serious threat, which we can actually stop at the EU level. That is why, it is so important to have a voice there."

Indeed, it is most likely the issue of climate change that will make more young voters visit the polling booths this time.

Combatting climate change has been the Finns' number one priority during the election campaign, and it has a mobilising effect on the crowd.

Current projections agree that the turnout amongst young voters in Finland will rise this year. One new national opinion poll, from Statens ungdomsrad, forecast an impressive 67.2 percent turnout in the age group 18-29.

In Finland, polls close on 26 May. And on 1 July, Finland will take over the rotating EU presidency.

Author bio

Mie Olsen is a freelance Danish journalist.

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