“This time it’s different” runs the European Parliament’s 2014 campaign motto. 2014 must be different. The previous European campaigns were seriously flawed. To identify what went wrong, the League of Young Voters joined forces with the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance to research the curse of youth absenteeism.

The study threw up three main findings: first, young voter absenteeism is directly linked to socio-economic factors; second, there is a mutual distrust between political parties and young people; and third, political parties have yet to wake up to changes in how young people communicate and organise politically. The data showed that because a majority of young people do not vote, political parties – quite rationally – do not target young people in their campaigns. In a sample of party manifestos in five countries for the 2009 European Parliament election campaigns, half the parties failed to mention young people at all and, among those that did, most failed to offer any specific policies on youth issues.

Our study concludes that young people are not disengaged from political issues and can be brought back to the ballot box. It makes a set of recommendations in this regard: member states should propose a quota of 25% of party candidates to be under 35; political parties should replace their old methods of selecting candidates in favour of open primaries; they should include youth issues clearly in their manifestos; political campaigns should target key groups of young people, such as students, the socially excluded and first-time voters. The role and history of the EU should feature on school curricula in EU member states; in the longer term the voting process for EU elections must be simplified and the voting age lowered.

Member States, the EU institutions and political parties shared responsibility for this. However, as the voice of young people and youth organisations in Europe, the European Youth Forum also has an important role to play. The League of Young Voters is our contribution. It provides a space for young people to express their concerns and expectations in the run-up to the elections, and fuses together youth campaigns from across the EU into a pan-European movement.

Our last major event for 2014 will be the League of Young Voter’s participation in the European Youth Event in May in Strasbourg. To the 10 000 young people who are expected to attend the 3-days event, we have one simple message: Make your choice, or others will make it for you…

John Lisney
European Youth Forum // Coordinator of the League of Young Voters

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