EU elections 2014: Online tool aims to get the youth voting

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As politicians prepare for the EU elections in 2014, the transparency organisation VoteWatch launched with civil society organisations an initiative to boost young people's interest in European politics and get them to the polling booth.

The website, launched together with youth organisations European Youth Forum and League of Young voters, polls users’ opinion on “salient” parliamentary votes, and matches their preferences to the track record of MEPs and groups in Parliament.

Though the tool is accessible to anyone, VoteWatch’s policy director Doru Frantescu stressed at a launch event on Wednesday (18 September) that it is specifically aimed at voters between 18 and 35 and first time voters.

“We’re showing to voters what issues can play a role in their choice of vote, but we try to do it in a fun and interesting way,” he said.

The website puts fifteen questions to visitors, who then cast their vote or abstain. The tool allows users to compare their own results to all incumbent MEPs’ voting records across European political groups, or within their own country.

“We selected the salient issues; the ones that are most likely to interest voters,” said Simon Hix, chairman of VoteWatch Europe and professor at the London School of Economics (LSE).

Amongst the selection are issues close to young people’s hearts such as the parliamentary motion on the Youth Guarantee scheme. Highly contested votes like the one on the anti-counterfeiting trade agreement (ACTA) or on taxing financial transactions in the EU (or Tobin tax) are also included.

Though the selection does not necessarily reflect the core activities of the European parliament, the organisers hope they will grab attention. “This isn’t an academic tool,” Hix said. “It is a tool to get people interested.”

Candidates to follow

The real challenge for will be to reach those citizens generally not interested in EU politics.

The League of Young Voters, co-partner of the project, said it will work with its member organisations in EU member states, as well as with local parties and politicians.

The organisation also stressed their hope that others, including politicians, will share the tool. It includes a website, a Facebook and a smartphone application. By May 2014, hopes to reach a target of 3 million visitors on their website.

While visitors can have a look at their match amongst the incumbent MEPs, the lists of candidates in next elections will only be finalised months from now.

European parties also just started the process of nominating campaign frontrunners who will run as candidates for the Commission presidency.

In March, MyVote2014 will launch an upgrade of the website, aimed at integrating the voting record of new candidates, as well as the candidates for the Commission presidency position.

“We will ask candidates to take the test, and put their results in the mix,” Hix said. “Also, we might confront these candidates with the voting record of their group in the EP.”

Young vote, radical vote?

With this campaign, VoteWatch hopes to boost young voters’ turnout in next May’s elections.

In 2009, the turnout amongst 18 to 24-year-olds dropped to an all-time low of 29%, while turnout amongst 55 year-old plus group was 50%.

“We researched why the turnout amongst young people was so low,” says Jennifer de Nijs of the League of Young Voters. “Politicians themselves stated they did not focus on young voters. They felt this group was disinterested, and that older age groups have more votes because of the demographics in Europe.”

She stressed the need for politicians to pay attention to this age group, as well as having young MEPs run for seats in Parliament to pull in the youth vote.

Simon Hix believes that the anti-European political movements will be more successful in getting votes amongst young voters: “A lot of young people blame Europe for the unemployment [crisis]. It will be interesting to see whether they’ll vote for eurosceptic parties in large numbers.”

>> Read: Frustrated young voters could reverse declining turnout in EU elections

Last weeks, the European Parliament launched its information campaign dubbed “This time it’s different”. Presenting the campaign in Strasbourg, Greek MEP Anni Podimata drew attention to the unique context of next EU elections, expressing her believe that democratic legitimacy would improve.

“Appealing to the civic duty, as campaigns have tried in the past, hasn’t been successful in getting people to vote,” VoteWatch’s managing director Michiel van Hulten explained their approach.

“What we try to do is politicize the campaign, and make clear that these issues matter and you better chose who represents your views.”

With the entry into force in 2009 of the Lisbon Treaty, the European political parties have pledged to name their candidate for the European Commission presidency.

The chosen politician will then seek backing in their own country in a similar way to national elections. Political leaders will run the show, casting their shadow over single candidates.

The European elections on 22-25 May will flesh out the debate between a side of Europe that wants to maintain rigorous austerity measures - the centre-right - and another side which favours spreading the fiscal belt-tightening over a longer period of time to boost spending, confidence, growth and reduce unemployment  - the centre-left.

  • March 2014: is complemented with election candidates 
  • 22-25 May: European elections in all 28 member states
  • 1 November: New European Commission takes office

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