4th Dec 2023


Coming-of-age — what do young want from the 2024 EP election?

  • Only one-in-15 MEPs is aged between 18 and 35, compared with one-in-five Europeans (Photo: European Parliament)
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"I found none of the candidates convincing".

This is how Pablo, a 21-year-old Spaniard, explains why he did not vote in his country's national election on 23 July. He still lives with his parents, and his day-to-day life consists of going to university, studying and working at weekends to pay for his leisure time. He knows the electoral system, how to go to vote, where to go, and how every vote counts.

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  • Not all those who attend Fridays For Future rallies feel as enthused about voting for change (Photo: Fridays4Future)

Still, despite predictions of a tight outcome in his country, he decided not to go to the polls.

"When I'm at home I usually listen to some politicians' speeches on TV, and I never hear anything that speaks to me," he told EUobserver. "Not voting was my way of showing my discontent with the candidates."

In a pre-election survey in Spain, 72.6 percent of 18-24 year olds said they intended to go to the polls. Compare that with the 88.5 percent of those aged 65-74 who said they would vote.

The example of Spain, one of the most recent EU countries to go to the polls, reflects a pan-European problem.

In the last EU elections in 2019, turnout among young people was the lowest of all age groups, even though it was up.

According to the post-election eurobarometer survey, turnout increased by 12 percentage points among the under-25s and by 14 percentage points among the 25-39s.

The outlook for the 2024 European elections, which will be held between 6 and 9 June 2024, is brighter. Comparing young people's attitudes one year before the elections, their interest has increased by six percent (to 49 percent).

However, their intention to vote is still lower than that of the rest of the population (55 percent, contrasted with 67 percent). That deficit is despite the fact that many of those young people are involved in some form of activism. Nine-out-of-ten respondents to the last European Youth Survey claim to have taken part in at least one political or civic activity in 2021.

So what are the reasons for this gap?

Firstly, almost seven out of 10 young people who did not vote, said they did not vote in 2019 for practical, rather than ideological, reasons.

"This opens up a question regarding the future prospects, for example, of e-voting or postal voting", Christiana Xenofontos, vice-president of the European Youth Forum (EYF), told EUobserver. "It also highlights the importance of the development and the availability of resources, specially for the first time of young voters to facilitate their registration and participation".

Secondly, there is the matter of young people's representation at decision-making level.

In 2022, while one-in-five Europeans was aged between 18 and 35, only one-in-15 MEPs was in that age group. What's more, the average age of an MEP is actually almost 50.

"We know that you do not necessarily need to be young to be supportive to youth issues, but if young people feel like they are not represented in parliament, I think they are less likely to engage and vote," Xenofontos said.

In 2024, many teenagers aged 16 will vote for the first time in Belgium and Germany, (which both lowered their voting age in the last couple of years), as well as Austria, and Malta, where it was already permitted. In Greece, they can do so from the age of seventeen.

But if young people do not see their concerns addressed, and ideas reflected in the political programmes and agendas, why should they consider voting?, Xenofontos worried.

"Especially when they have the youth activism [like Fridays for Future] through which they feel like they are changing things," she said.

Leaving the family nest at 30

With slogans such as "Make Your Voice Heard", 2022 was declared the European Year of Youth. One in which young people made clear their priorities: physical and mental health and well-being, protecting the environment and fighting climate change, and education and training.

But a reality check shows less than promising data.

A quick overview: in countries such as Croatia, Slovakia or Greece, the age at which a young person leaves the family home is over 30. The youth unemployment rate is eight percentage points higher than for the population as a whole. In other countries, such as Spain, just paying the rent accounts for 83.7 percent of their annual take-home pay.

"In many cases, youth policies are turning into an escape route that does not structurally solve the main problems affecting young people, such as housing and employment, and that causes major mental health problems," lamented Juan Antonio Báez, vice-president of the Spanish Youth Council.

Of the 73 million people aged 15-29 in the EU, 17.8 million were at risk of poverty or social exclusion as of 2021.

Not to mention mental health and its link to the socio-economic situation of young people. During Covid-19, two-thirds of young Europeans experiencing financial difficulties were at risk of depression during the pandemic, Eurofound reported.

"By engaging with these ideas, politicians can actually give young people a vision of the future that resonates with them, and therefore something that's compelling to vote for," Xenophontos said.

And if they do so at an early age, it will create a voting habit for life.

"At 16 or even 17 you can work, drive, join a political party, or make a medical decision, but there is no reason why you should not be able to have your democratic say," Xenofontos said.


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