Trans-Europe Express – Smells like teen spirit

The Trans-Europe Express is EURACTIV's weekly roundup of news from across Europe.

Getting young people out to vote has frustrated national politicians across Europe for a generation. EU policymakers, vexed by steadily low turnout in general, are now also searching for the elusive youth elixir, anxious that next year’s European elections may produce more Eurosceptic MEPs than ever, on another low turnout.

That young voters tend to stay at home is doubly frustrating since the young are naturally more pro-European.

The Brexit referendum and its aftermath has served as a wake-up call.

It is estimated that 64% of the UK’s 18-24 year olds turned out to vote in the 2016 referendum, of which around 75% are thought to have voted to stay in the EU. That turnout was more than 20% higher than at the previous general election in 2015. But it still pales in comparison with a 90% turnout rate of over 65s, most of whom voted for Brexit.

The demographic split, with people over 55 voting predominantly to leave the bloc, prompted something of a ‘youth revolt’. The referendum brought home the fear among millions of young Britons about losing the right to live, work and travel in other EU countries.

Were that to be replicated across Europe, millennials from Sweden to Cyprus, from Portugal to Slovakia, could find that electoral passivity sees them lose the rights and freedoms that their parents have taken for granted.

So what’s the answer?

Tinkering with existing EU programmes and youth giveaways won’t bear much fruit at the ballot box. The problem with expanding the Erasmus student exchange programme, or with the €12 million pilot scheme approved by MEPs last October to hand out 20,000 free pan-EU rail passes to 18 year olds on their birthday, is that you are probably preaching to the converted, and in small numbers.

Luc Van den Brande, special advisor to Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, has suggested that Erasmus could be expanded to cover students and young people who are not at university.

That would be a welcome addition, but institutional tinkering won’t change the fact that ‘grassroots’ and youth-led campaigns are most likely to succeed.

Ollie Olanipekun’s provocative anti-Brexit ‘Swindled’ campaign, run by an agency that is “youth-focused and millennial”, and aimed at young people disillusioned with the political process, has quickly made waves. Meanwhile, organisations like ‘My Life My Say’ have quickly attracted a large number of activists.

But youth is no guarantee of innovation. Being 69 years old didn’t prevent Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn from being arguably the first mainstream European politician to really tap into the youth zeitgeist ahead of the last general election campaign in May 2017.

The prospect of Juncker & co pogoing at Glastonbury or Rock Werchte next year, a la Corbyn, is an unlikely one. But straight-talking, free from politician-speak jargon, coupled with policy freebies, is a good way to start.

Inside Track

Back in the EU arena. German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced she will pay a quick visit to French President Emmanuel Macron to discuss EU reform “with the goal of advancing common proposals for Europe”.

High hopes. Reactions by political observers in Austria on the election of Angela Merkel as the German Chancellor are widely positive – especially when it comes to European affairs.

Sticking points. Brexit, the EU budget and security will be the three major priorities when Austria takes over the final EU presidency in the second half of 2018 before all-important elections in May 2019.

Slogan without substance? ‘Global Britain’ has been one of the most popular slogans used by UK ministers, led by Foreign Minister Boris Johnson. What it actually means in practice is far from clear.

Name change. As part of efforts to improve its image, France’s Le Pen far-right leader Marine Le Pen proposed changing the name of her party to “Rassemblement National” (National Rally) after being  re-elected for a third term as leader.

Belgium vs. Commission. Belgium’s Brussels region has decided to file a complaint against the Commission with the ECJ over its decision to re-authorise glyphosate, the most widely used pesticide in the world.

United front.  Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have confirmed that they are against imposing EU sanctions on Poland for alleged breaches to the rule of law.

Future Europe consultations. The Czech Republic responded to the challenge laid down by French President Macron and is going to hold a series of public debates on what shape the EU should take in the future.

Kuciak murder aftermath. Slovakia staggers toward early elections, as PM Robert Fico resigned amid a political crisis sparked by the murder of an investigative journalist provoked the country’s biggest protests since the fall of communism.

Government down II. Three months ahead of general election, Slovenian PM Miro Cerar resigned hours after a key investment project hit a legal obstacle.

Serbia, US differ on Kosovo. The visit of US Assistant Secretary of State to Belgrade made clear again that the issue of Kosovo remains a thorn in Serbia’s side and the biggest obstacle to its hopes of joining the European Union in 2025

Ottoman nostalgia. Bulgaria’s foreign ministry told Turkey that internationally agreed borders cannot be changed, reacting to a statement by Turkish President Erdoğan saying the Bulgarian city of Kardzhali finds itself “in the spiritual boundaries of Turkey”.

Road to the Euro. Romania is one the fastest growing EU economies but still one of its poorest and most corrupt members. Now the countries’ ruling Social Democrats voted to back a 2024 target date to adopt the euro currency.

Wind farm premiere. While coal-dependent Bosnia gets 40% of its power from hydro threatened by drought, the countries’ maiden wind farm which started producing electricity this week in an effort to secure future energy production.

Blow to Europe? The strong performance of Eurosceptic parties in Italy’s recent election stands out in a country that has long been considered one of the most pro-European populations within the EU.

Living with Putin. Popularity ratings that exceed 80% 18 years after Russian President Vladimir Putin accession to power leave no doubt about the outcome of the election in Russia taking place on 18 March.

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