'Selfies' and social media fail to entice young EU voters

Wed May 21, 2014 4:42am EDT
 
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By Anna Nicolaou

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - In an entirely unscientific poll, 10 young Europeans were recently asked if they could identify any of the top three candidates in this week's European Parliament elections. Only one of them could.

The survey of students at the Marie-Haps Institute, a university in Brussels, was a light-hearted exercise, but it illustrated a serious point: no sector of society is more disconnected from European politics than first-time voters.

Yet it is the young who are arguably most exposed to the consequences of EU decision-making: youth unemployment averages 23 percent across the EU and exceeds 50 percent in Greece and Italy. Fallout from the debt crisis risks creating a generation of educated and frustrated young people without jobs.

It is an issue at the forefront of the minds of the top candidates - one they have all raised in almost every speech, debate and town hall meeting of the campaign - and yet their message fails to resonate with most young voters.

"A whole generation in the European Union pays with their life chances for a crisis other people, irresponsible people, have caused," said Martin Schulz, the candidate for the center-left Socialists & Democrats, during a debate at the University of Maastricht last month.

The response from students and young people in Brussels would not leave him encouraged.

"European politics doesn't matter much to me," said Bart Waegeman, an employee of the Belgian government in his early 20s hanging out at Marie-Haps. "Europe is a little too big."

Sarah Boulanger, the only one of the Marie-Haps students to correctly identify one of the candidates to be the next European Commission president (former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt) was equally dismissive.   Continued...

 
A cyclist passes European election posters of Socialist candidate for European Commission president Martin Schulz (R) of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and German Chancellor and head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Angela Merkel, in Hamburg, May 20, 2014.  REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer