A Brussels’ debate on the involvement of young people in EU politics turned sour for a while when Commissioner László Andor and the representative of the European People’s Party (EPP) youth chapter clashed over the functioning of the union and why the 28-country bloc is unattractive to young voters.
The lack of participation and representation of young people in EU politics and elections is taking an increasingly alarming turn at times when “stakes have never been higher”, a panel of experts and young politicians gathered by the European Policy Centre and the citizen project Future Lab Europe said yesterday (7 April)
With the decline of the European welfare state, the economic pressure on public services and the ever aging European population, the absence of young people from the European political scene is a “serious problem”.
However, involving them in EU politics will require not only “including the topics that are of interest to the youth into the decision-making process”, as one speaker put it, but it will also require “politicising” EU politics and making the EU simpler and more transparent, the speakers stressed.
Currently the European Parliament counts only two MEPs under 30 and the last EU elections in 2009 saw barely 30% of young Europeans heading to the polls.
The members of Future Lab Europe identified a few reasons, such as the lack of discussion and interest for issues that concern the youth directly and the inability to understand how a European vote affects their everyday life.
But for Andor, the European Commissioner in charge of employment and social affairs, the debate needs to go beyond what is of immediate interest to them.
“The future is decided decades ahead, we need to encourage and inform young people about the European budget, the Eurozone crisis, the deepening of the single market,” he said.
However, he stressed, the ‘political socialisation in the national contexts’ has led to a ‘political deficit’ of young people in European politics, something which could be remedied through education on European history and the setting up of pan-European parties, among other initiatives.
The diagnosis is the same across political parties: Europe speaks a bureaucratic language that is unappealing to young voters in general, but not only, said the Hungarian MEP candidate from the Greens, Javor Benedek, in whose opinion EU debates are “not understandable”, and not only to the youth. A situation which has led to making far-right parties “more mobilising and more attractive”, as Sunday’s election results in Hungary showed.
In order to make European politics more appealing, the youth organization of the European Peoples’ Party (EPP) came up with concrete proposals, set to be “discussed after the elections”, the president of the organisation, Konstantinos Kyranakis said.
Their proposal, qualified as an “illusion” by the EU commissioner, aims at simplifying the decision-making process in the EU, Kyranakis explained: reducing the number of DGs and matching them with the parliamentary committees would reduce the number of unelected officials.
For the youth of the centre-right “the legislative procedure needs to be in three stages”: first a proposal is drafted by the national ministers and the commissioner in charge, it then goes to “only one committee, the main one, so that citizens are not confused by reports”, the committee debates, amends and votes on the proposal right before the plenary session. Finally, the proposal goes to the council of ministers “for approval or rejection”.
This new model should also have a one-year deadline, the president of the youth of the EPP explained: “In this system citizens will know how things can change and they will be more engaged in politics,” he told EURACTIV after the debate. Asked how a veto right for the council of ministers makes the process more democratic, Kyranakis answered:
“I think Europe today is ready for this, this is already a big step, but we don’t propose anything too federalist that citizens are not ready to accept, especially during a crisis.”
The Greek young politician’s presentation made the EU commissioner jump who told him he should have “no illusions about the simplification of the decision making process with 28 member states, we cannot exclude anyone,” he said.
A short clash ensued between the two about the origins of the sovereign debt crisis and the corruption and lack of transparency of the Greek administration, with Andor reminding that the EU rules were “not created by the bureaucrats but by the member states.”
“I think it was unfair from the Commissioner to make an attack on Greece in this debate about engaging young people in politics, probably to undermine my position by saying something completely irrelevant,” the young Hellenic leader added.
“Benefits tourism – a non-issue”
The European Commissioner also addressed the rise of anti-immigration in EU member states towards Bulgarian and Romanian nationals, a question that came up from the young audience itself, and which he called a “non-issue” raised mainly by member states that are not founders of the EU, the UK and Denmark.
“Discussions there are really annoying because they are discussion on non-issues like benefits tourism which is largely a myth,” Andor said referring to the studies published by the EU Commission itself which showed that “actually the migrant workforce is a net contributor to the welfare state”.
The Commissioner explicitly blamed a certain type of journalists, as well as the UKIP for “ignoring the facts” just ot “generate anti-EU feelings”, calling their actions “atrocious”.
The European elections will be held in all EU countries in May 2014. The Lisbon Treaty states that the European Parliament shall elect the Commission president on the basis of a proposal made by the European Council, taking into account the European elections (Article 17, Paragraph 7 of the TEU). This will apply for the first time in the 2014 elections.
European Parliament, parties and many others have pushed for these parties to nominate their front-runners in the election campaigns. This would make the European elections a de facto race for the Commission president seat, would politicise the campaigns and could increase voter turnout, they say.
But others have argued that the European parties’ push for own candidates may not be the best solution. Raising expectations could easily lead to disappointment, Herman Van Rompuy has repeatedly said, calling for caution in case the European Council chooses another candidate than the winning party’s frontrunner.
- 22-25 May: EU elections across 28 member states