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4th Mar 2024

Opinion

Too young to run?

  • Coming of age in the 2020s looks very different from the 1990s and 2000s (Photo: Simon Maage)
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EUobserver recently interviewed young MEPs (under 35). You can find more details here.

In a world coloured by the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, rapid digitalisation, acute climate change, soaring prices and stagnant wages, coming of age in the 2020s looks very different from the 1990s and 2000s.

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Over the past 20 years, Europe and the world have changed in significant ways. And our politicians need a better understanding of young people's realities and the challenges we face today.

We, the European Youth Forum, often meet decision-makers who respond to the concerns of young people with dismissal. "Everyone goes through this, but you grow out of it" is a common answer to young people's concerns — including unpaid internships and other forms of precarious employment, financial challenges facing young people trying to establish their independence and mental health problems.

Whilst it's not the only way, it certainly helps to be young yourself. About 25 percent of Europe's population is young, but less than one percent of MEPs today are under 30. In fact, MEPs elected in 2019 had an average age of 50.

And it's not just about making better policies for young people. It's about strengthening our democracies all around. According to a recent survey by the UN Youth Envoy and the Body Shop, 69 percent of people believe that our politics would be better if more young people had a say in policy development. That's why we need more young politicians. But how can we make it happen?

Getting younger candidates on party lists

We might expect the die to be cast on election day, next June. But the real moment for boosting young people's chances of getting elected is happening much earlier. Right now in fact.

Europe's party youth wings boast thousands of active members, many of whom are keen to get a foot up into politics. They have proven themselves to be highly engaged, well-informed and ready to bring fresh ideas into politics.

As political parties across Europe constitute their electoral lists, the order in which they choose to place candidates will be crucial. We have seen many cases of parties relegating their young candidates to token-istic, unelectable places at the bottom of the list. We have also heard of many cases in which young candidates are being denied basic party resources for campaigning, often accompanied by excuses such as 'You're still young, you can campaign online this time around.'

This has to change. Some parties have already taken steps and are showing their relevance.

For example, the Danish Radikale Venstre recently announced 28-year old Sigrid Friis Frederiksen as their lead candidate. Indeed Denmark also sent Kira Marie Peter-Hansen the youngest politician to Brussels in 2019, aged just 21.

The European political party youth wings are demanding exactly that in their recent cross-party statement, calling for political parties to select younger candidates for the elections in June.

Turning up to vote for their peers

Nationally, Germany tops the list in terms of under 30s in its own parliament, and with German 16 and 17 year olds voting for the first time in 2024, we might expect more young politicians for the next mandate in Brussels too.

It's understandable that parties choose candidates to appeal to their voter base. With an ageing population, the percentage of younger voters is getting smaller and smaller. But recent decisions taken by Belgium and Germany to join Austria, Malta and Greece by lowering the voting age means the voter base is expanded.

Statistics from Austria show that 16-17 year-old first-time voters were significantly more likely to vote than older voters.

Opening the vote to 16 and 17 year olds across the EU would encourage parties to orient more policies towards young people's needs. This, in turn, will encourage more young people to vote.

Parties hoping to stay relevant, appealing and forward-looking should take this invitation seriously. It's not just about appealing to the youth vote on election day. It's about parliaments which make policies that are more relevant for our democracies now, and in the years to come.

And those of us intending to vote: a recent EU Observer piece showed that younger MEPs turned up to vote more, proposed the most legislative amendments and gave more speeches in plenary. This energy is something you want for the people that represent you.

Author bio

Rares Voicu is a board member of the European Youth Forum.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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