UK: The youth vote in European elections a comparison to South Asia

Between the 22nd and 25th May elections for the European Parliament will take place. In the 2009 elections turnout was 43% with youth turnout just 29%. Considering the immense changes in the European Union in terms of bailouts, austerity, and youth unemployment rates of up to 50% in some areas there is some chance of an increase in this year’s elections, but youth turnout is still not likely to be high.Why is youth turnout so low? A 2013 poll by Eurobarometer shows that there are two main reasons. The first is ignorance; 61% believe they are not sufficiently informed to vote and 54% say they are not interested in European politics and elections (both p.35). This is why the International Debate Education Association (IDEA) is working with the League of Young Voters in order to increase awareness of the European Elections among youth voters. We are running Debate, Engage, Vote! a series of public debates in the run up to the elections. These will culminate in the European Cup in Strasbourg. These debates will raise awareness of the European elections and engage and inform about what the European Parliament does and why it matters to young people.The second reason for low turnout is a belief that voting will make no difference; 64% say their vote will not change anything and 56% say the European Parliament does not sufficiently deal with problems that concern them. Here the European Parliament is attempting to change by encouraging the idea that the vote will mean the election of the President of the European Commission. Unfortunately there is no guarantee that the candidate from the umbrella party (each containing parties from many member states; e.g. the European Peoples Party contains among others the German Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and French Union for a Popular Movement (UMP)) that wins most votes will actually get the job. It is the European Council, formed of the member states governments, who still have the power to appoint the president.Both India and Afghanistan are in the middle of elections and in comparison to the apathy in the EU both are reporting a high turnout; the first states to vote in the Indian elections have had turnouts of around 75% and the youth vote has been high too. Part of the reason is that the politicians feel it is necessary to directly offer something to younger voters.In Afghanistan where the election is to replace President Karzai the youth vote has been hailed as being vital and likely to determine the result. The votes of young people are so important that all the main candidates have made pledges of bringing youth representation into government. One candidate Zalmay Rassoul went so far as to state “God willing and if the people support our team, 50% of my cabinet members will be youth and 20% will be women”.The other country where the youth could determine the course of the election is India where the biggest ever election started on Monday. Here the strategy has been different. There has been some rhetoric that “you will see a government of new people, of the new generation” but the promises are mostly about the economy; the incumbent Congress party is promising 100million skilled jobs for the youth, and the BJP calling young people “the most productive asset of the nation” has also emphasised job creation and economic growth.The reason that youth matters so much in these countries is the size of the young population. The Indian elections will be the biggest elections ever as there will be up to 150 million 18-23 year olds who are first time voters. In Europe with an aging population the demographics encourage politicians to ignore the young. But this is a mistake; if young people can’t be persuaded to vote they will continue to abstain in the future. A lack of engagement with the young could ultimately undermine the legitimacy of elections in Europe – both for national and European parliaments.As for the young, it is them who loose from not voting. Politicians will never tailor policies to them if they are not considered votes that are worth courting.You can help Debate, Engage, Vote! by organising your own public debate on the European Elections. Read how to Take Part! on the website or contact Manos Moschopoulos.

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