A video showing MEPs dancing in the streets of Brussels, to the tune of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”, was launched last month, in the hope of attracting young voters for the next European elections, in May.
The video clip features shots of Europeans, including a dancing construction worker, accountant, teacher, nudist, drag queen, student, and several members of the European Parliament, dancing to the Williams hit. Campaigners hope the clip will create a buzz on social media, and raise young people’s interest in the elections.
Voter turnout has declined consistently since the first European elections were held in 1979, dropping to a record 43% in 2009. But youth turnout has seen the steepest decline, dropping from around 33% in 2004 to 29% in 2009.
As a consequence, the focus on young people’s needs and interests is at risk of being overlooked, campaigners warn. Issues surrounding young people are rarely debated, according to youth movements, though the current financial crisis has hit young people particularly hard, with youth unemployment rates at 60% in some member states.
German MEP Ska Keller, who is running as the Greens’ candidate for an EU top job in the elections, said it was crucial that young people vote in order to reverse all the wrong decisions that have been taken for them in the existing legislature.
The EU “could do many things better, but only if we get the right people into the Parliament,” Keller told EurActiv. “The main message is that your vote counts and that it makes a difference. It’s important to use whatever tool we have to bring the message across. If this video helps, then I’m happy to participate in it,” she said.
Extra money for better turnout in Sweden
Meanwhile in Sweden, the government has launched a new campaign to increase voter participation among young people and immigrants. In some parts of the country, the number of people from these groups who voted in 2009 was less than 20%.
“Of course I get sad that we have a low turnout in general, at 45%. But also that exposed groups in the society vote less than other. That is very sad,” EU Affairs and Democracy minister Birgitta Ohlsson told Sweden’s Radio.
The Swedish government has earmarked 60 million Swedish crowns (€6.6) in an effort to get a better turnout among youth and foreign-born citizens in both the European Parliament elections and in the Swedish general elections in September. Most of the money, around 44 million, will go to the political parties in the local areas where the turnout is low.
Magnus Dahlstedt, professor of ethnicity at Linköping’s University, said that many people who don’t vote do so deliberately, and politicians should know that these potential voters are not uninformed.
“I definitely believe they are informed and critical. And they choose not to vote. This is a serious signal,” he said.
He added that the targeted groups often feel that there is a structural injustice in society so a sudden interest in them from the politicians’ side might not work as intended.
“Citizens in these areas are not stupid, and when they see a politician who comes to their home ahead of an election, they ask ‘Why didn’t that politician come earlier on? Why now? They are here to fool us’. This risks bringing mistrust,” Dahlstedt said.
But Ohlsson rejects the criticism. “Had we not done anything, we would also be criticised. No matter what we do, people think it’s wrong. But now we are doing something. We want to make a difference and make things better, and I hope we will get a result,” she said.
The European elections will be held in all EU countries on 22-25 May 2014. The stakes of the EU election are high for mainstream parties: Eurosceptic political parties are blossoming in many European countries. Analysts have argued that the next Parliament could have a high number of Eurosceptic, populist MEPs.
In the coming months, mainstream parties will clarify the common programmes or ‘manifestos’, on which to base their common campaign and for national parties to use in national campaigns.
The next EU Commission will be selected over the summer, together with a number of top jobs in the EU institutions. The Commission is set to take office on 1 November, although it is uncertain if it will make this target date.
- 22-25 May: European Parliament elections.