Not a single non-white person among the current EU commissioners (Photo: European Commission)


The vote of second-generation Europeans in EU elections: 'Our voices matter'

Free Article
Not a single non-white person among the current EU commissioners (Photo: European Commission)

"Voting in European elections creates a sense of crumbling in me: it reassures and frightens me at the same time," says Hager, the daughter of a Tunisian father and Algerian mother. This compliance officer working for a private company lives in a small northern municipality near Genoa, on Italy's Ligurian Mediterranean Sea.

Hager has been active in political circles close to the centre-left Italian Democratic Party (PD) since the age of 16. Today, she is 25 and already disillusioned: "My struggles do not find an echo in the party, so I stepped away from active militancy."

"In small towns like my small Italian province, I hardly see people similar to me doing politics. Initially, I justified this absence as a lack of interest from the second generation. Over the years, I realised that it is not a question of numbers but of representativeness," she explains. 

"I will vote, but the EU divides me"

As required by Italian law, Hager, who arrived in Italy at a few months old with her parents, was granted citizenship at 18 and only then could travel freely within the Schengen area.

"A privilege that finally made me feel European. I will vote, but the EU divides me: on the one hand, I see an openness towards issues of inclusion and gender equality, and on the other hand, support for problematic migration policies such as those with north African countries or Albania."

Often invisible in political, cultural, and media spaces, Hager is part of a generation of young European citizens with a migrant background — some of them with dual citizenship — whose vote tells the story of the success or failure of policies to include minorities in the European social fabric. 

Several factors contributed to orienting their vote on 6-9 June, in a period that many call “unprecedented,” and “different from other historical moments experienced by our generation.”  The migration policies implemented by the last legislature are among them: "I know that the mobility I finally enjoy within the European Union is not the same as my peers on the other side of the Mediterranean. I find it terrible that some of them, in their 20s, do not have the possibility to travel freely, and many of them die at sea," Hager concludes.

'Gaza changed everything'

Echoing her words is Ghadah, 27, an Italian aspiring screenwriter of Algerian-Egyptian origin, who shares with Heger a family story of migration from North Africa to Europe. According to Ghadah, the war in Gaza also had a significant influence on her perception of voting for the European Parliament. 

"Since 7 October, I have experienced a significant crisis of confidence in all political parties. As someone with an Arab background, I feel a deep sense of identification with Palestinians due to historical issues," she explains, referring to the resonance that the war in Gaza is causing in the enduring wounds from the French colonisation of Algeria. 

"For me, there is this visceral sense of recognition dealing with a conflict whose effects we see live on social media. Sometimes, I tell myself: this person looks like my grandmother; this could be my cousin, my uncle. There is a kind of physical recognition that is painful," she adds. 

"We are confronting one of the most violent conflicts in recent years, and yet the EU remains deaf” 

Ghadah has not yet decided whether to go to the polls this weekend. For her, the European Union's stance on the war in Gaza has contributed to widening the distance with the institutions, so much so that she says it is not even “a party political issue, but almost a personal one”: “It is as if all politics sees us as expendable. I can't afford to vote for those who dehumanise the Palestinians and, in a way, me too."

Layla, a 29-year-old Franco-Iranian born in Paris to parents who migrated to Europe for educational purposes, currently works in a cooperation in Romania. While she acknowledges the issue at hand, she disagrees with the solution: "I believe that few people today truly grasp the complexity of this historical moment within European institutions. We are confronting one of the most violent conflicts in recent years, and yet the EU remains deaf.” 

“Gaza intensifies my desire to vote: I see my vote as a political statement, and the conflict in Gaza significantly influences my decision," she affirms, explicitly stating that she will vote for the ecologist party. According to this young French-Iranian, the voting behaviour of citizens with a migrant background in Europe is not uniform, as she can observe significant differences and approaches within the Iranian community itself depending on the migration wave. 

At a time of street participation and protests in front of universities across Europe, the war in Gaza opened up political spaces of representation other than those offered by traditional institutions and the practice of voting. "What is certain is that I do not feel represented neither as French nor as an EU citizen. I learn from young Romanians who seem to be more aware of the urgency of voting than us French," Layla remarks, as an expatriate working in Bucharest alongside Ukrainian refugees.

"I don't understand the double standards of the EU regarding the serious conflicts in Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Palestine," reiterates Miriam, a 25-year-old Italo-Tunisian. Layla is a graduate student in Area and Global Studies for International Cooperation, specialising in African studies. If she does not feel represented as an EU citizen, it is precisely because of the "inconsistency" and "hypocrisy" she has observed in numerous EU foreign policy choices since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, up to Gaza. 

A law student, Samira, a 21-year-old French-Algerian who grew up in the Paris banlieue, confirms: “My vote cannot but be influenced by the urgency of the current historical moment. I will vote for a Palestinian candidate who will bring a different voice to the European institutions, even if I do not agree with other measures of her party. But I recognise myself in her,” she says, referring to the Franco-Palestinian candidate Rima Hassan of the far-left La France Insoumise (LFI).

The diaspora vote experience

When she first arrived in Brussels in 2014 with a degree in law and a specialisation in European law, Céline Fabrequette found herself among a group of interns at the European institutions where an old pattern was replicated: she was the only racialised person. "I was used to it: I come from a French family of Cameroonian origin living in Burgundy, where I was the only black person in the school class," she says.

The issue of representativeness has come up as a taboo several times in European institutions. In 2019, it was pointed out to Ursula Von Der Leyen that there were no non-whites in her team. Von Der Leyen replied, “I hope that will change one day, that would be nice,” as reported by Euronews. Since then, however, few changes have occurred. 

Nevertheless, representativeness was a personal issue for Céline. With a group of friends and colleagues, she decided to found the association Diaspora Vote a few months before the 2019 parliamentary elections. Its aim: to empower the second and third generations and encourage them to vote. “Many people tell us that they do not feel represented. The issues faced by minorities often go unnoticed, but understanding how the EU addresses these concerns is essential for ensuring democratic functioning for everyone. Our vote matters,” Céline adds.

Five years later, her association is growing. Diaspora Vote counts 23 “ambassadors” in seven European countries. Each represents a community and works with its people to bridge the gap between EU institutions and neighbourhoods with migration backgrounds through meetings, public training, and workshops. Between April and May alone, some 17 events were organised in Ireland, Portugal, Greece, France, Belgium, Germany, and Austria. 

"Just think, for example, of the recently discussed issue of housing insulation. Who lives in the neighbourhoods with the least-insulated houses?"

“It is necessary for European institutions to recognise us as citizens, not just as actors who help them build relationships on the African continent, in the Maghreb, in the Middle East... We are also citizens of the EU within the EU, and our demands should be considered. This means not ignoring the issue of institutional racism. However, no data has been produced yet on discrimination,” she explains from Brussels.

In parallel, 50 young association members have worked with MEPs over the past few years within the framework of the Work With Your MEP program, providing them and their assistants with recommendations on addressing issues faced by discriminated minorities. "We have collaborated with Dutch MEP Samira Rafaela, for instance, who worked on the gender equality bill. If you read the word 'intersectionality' in the text, it is also thanks to the work of Diaspora Vote!" Céline exclaims with satisfaction when describing the association's lobbying work.

For Diaspora Vote, reaching out to communities with a migrant background in Europe is crucial because the issues discussed in Brussels often affect them closely, despite the absence of representation. Céline concludes: "Just think, for example, of the recently discussed issue of housing insulation. Who lives in the neighbourhoods with the least-insulated houses?"

More Europe and the privilege of not voting

Originally from Morocco, Soufian, a 22-year-old student in international public administration at the Hague University of Applied Sciences, is familiar with the “necessary work” of Diaspora Vote in Brussels. His choice is clear: “From my point of view, the EU has its strengths, such as the Green Deal, and weaknesses, such as the approval of the recent Asylum Pact. I support the reform of the treaties for a more united, compact, and transparent EU,” he says, making it clear that he will vote for the Dutch party Volt for its vision of a federal United Europe.

Yet, the common feeling is that we are moving towards an opposite European context. The daughter of Egyptian parents who migrated to Italy in the 1970s, Riham, a 35-year-old designer, observes: "I have the impression that we are very much closing in on ourselves and that nationalist policies forget the rights of minorities." Even for her, who obtained citizenship when she came of age, voting is a necessary democratic moment that "should always be exercised despite indecision”.

"I find myself in a middle ground that paradoxically makes me feel more represented at the European level. Maybe that is why European politics reassures me"

Certain words often return among the second generation: ‘indecision’, ‘representativeness,’ and ‘disconnection.’ But also ‘reassurance.’ A Spanish-Egyptian who grew up in Italy, Youssef, a 28-year-old journalist for a daily newspaper, cannot vote in national and regional elections and referendums because he resides in an EU country of which he is not a citizen. "I find myself in a middle ground that paradoxically makes me feel more represented at the European level. Maybe that is why European politics reassures me," he explains.

In some cases, levels of discrimination either do not resemble each other or overlap. This is the case for Leila, 31, whose mother is from southern Italy and whose father is Tunisian. She lives in Milan and says she has suffered double discrimination as both a Tunisian and a Neapolitan, which will affect her vote. “Of course, I will go and vote. For me, not voting cannot be considered a protest vote because it would mean handing Europe over to the extreme right,” she says.

Active in civil society, Leila has established herself as a public voice in the second-generation debate in Italy. She still happens to be “the only black person in the room,” a phrase borrowed from the title of a book by the Sri Lankan-Italian author Nadeesha Uyangoda that brought the issue of racism to the general public. “I recently attended a public meeting where many people told me that they did not want to vote because of the lack of clarity of political figures in Gaza,” she explains.

“I think, however, that not going to vote is a privilege of those who can say: ‘Whatever, nothing changes.’ You can say this because you are not directly affected by the reforms that some factions of the extreme right are carrying out, questioning the civil and social rights of discriminated minorities,” she concludes.

Author Bio

Arianna Poletti is a freelance journalist who moved to Tunisia in 2019, after working for French weekly magazine Jeune Afrique. She has covered environmental, social, and postcolonial issues between North Africa and Europe. Her articles have appeared in Al Jazeera, New Lines Magazine, Mongabay, El País, Médiapart, Le Monde Diplomatique, Socialter, Internazionale. Her investigative projects have been supported by Journalismfund Europe and the Earth Journalism Network.