One of the biggest challenges facing the candidates in the European Parliament elections in May is how to convince people to use their right to vote in the elections. The elections in 2014 did not show a good precedent: only 42,54% of the people casted their vote in all the EU28 states. Only 28% of young people (18-24 years old) voted in the previous elections. The statistics of young voters look the grimmest in the relatively new member states, such as Slovakia (6%) and Croatia (13%). On the other hand many other member states do not have much to be proud of either when it comes to young people’s voting activity. For example, in Finland the turnover was only 10% in the age group of 18-24. These numbers must change if the EU wishes to improve its “democratic deficit” and include young people in the decision-making process. The EU must also do its utmost to avoid the same situation that the United Kingdom is facing in the aftermath of the 2016 EU referendum.
Brexit is a textbook example of what happens when young people either do not have the right to participate in decision making or simply feel that their voice is not heard. In the 2016 Brexit referendum 71% of all the 18-24 year old voters voted to remain in the Union. As a comparison, out of voters in the age group of 50-64 only 40% voted to remain. Yet, it is the young people that will suffer the most when the United Kingdom leaves the Union. It has been speculated whether the tight outcome of the referendum would have been different had the voting age been lower. This will never be known for sure. What is for sure is that short sighted national politics will result in severe difficulties and it is the young people, not only in Britain but everywhere else in Europe, who will pay the highest price of Britain leaving the EU.
Political decisions have a huge impact on young generations, their future and possibilities in life, as Brexit has shown. Young people have a voice and they should have the right to use it also in elections. Klikkaa ja Twiittaa
Brexit has shown that there is a need for real change in the EU democracy. Young people are used to the freedoms that the EU provides, but as we can see in the election statistics the Union feels like a distant organisation that has no direct effect in their lives. Education and social media campaigns are important but only useful to a certain extent. One concrete way to improve youth participation in the EU would be to lower the voting age in the EU elections. At the moment the voting age is 18 years in all member states expect for Austria where it has been lowered to 16. Having the right to use one’s vote already in young age could encourage people to vote later in their lives as well. Mystifying voting and making it a business of “mature adults” is not the answer for the democratic crisis in the EU. Political decisions have a huge impact on young generations, their future and possibilities in life, as Brexit has shown. Young people have a voice and they should have the right to use it also in elections.
Lowering the voting age would not be the sole answer on how to improve the turnover in the European Parliament elections. It would however be a step in the right direction of including a more diverse range of people in the decision-making process. Lowering the voting age would require changing the EU election law and getting an approval of the qualified majority of the member states in the Council. The European Parliament is already in favour of the change. What is needed now is a broad support from the civil society, ideally not only from youth organisations but also from political parties, civil organisations and individual politicians.
If Brexit has a silver lining, I sincerely hope it is that young people all over Europe see that they have a voice and that their voice matters – but only when it is used. European Union can and must be criticised and the best way to demand for better politics is to vote in the elections.
TEXT Heljä Ossa
The author has a Master’s Degree in International Relation and has specialised in European security and defence politics. She currently lives and works in London.