After the first European Council of last year, Herman Van Rompuy tweeted on youth issues – an act that symbolically represented the entrance of youth into mainstream European political discourse at the highest level.
After that, references to youth, once very hard to spot, became standard in most speeches of European leaders. This is not by chance. The unemployment and exclusion of millions of young people is one of the greatest challenges in European politics today, and is a challenge that youth movements have been highlighting for many years.
Considering this background, it is no surprise that youth is one of the buzzwords of the campaigns for the European Parliament elections in May. But to what extent do the freshly adopted manifestos of the European parties represent young people?
The League of Young Voters – an organisation backed by the European Youth Forum – will soon publish a study that looks at the European political parties’ priorities on youth issues. There will be published as an online comparison tool – but here is a preview of our findings.
They both make very similar general statements relating to youth, although with an interestingly differing emphasis. For the EPP, “young people must be able to look to their future with confidence again”. The mission of the PES is to “bring back hope to Europe’s youth”.
The European Democratic Party – which is backing the ALDE candidate for the Commission presidency, Guy Verhofstadt – does not mention youth in its programme. The European Alliance for Freedom does refer to young people, but not in the general introduction to its manifesto.
Regarding actual actions proposed, the main issue that explicitly affects youth is – evidently – employment. All the parties present proposals related to job creation, unemployment, training and transition from education to the job market.
The EPP proposes to foster innovative education systems and looks at national measures to tackle youth unemployment. It also supports mobility programmes for young entrepreneurs and the creation of incentives for companies to recruit young people.
For the European Socialists, creating jobs for young people is a key priority – primarily through full implementation of their youth guarantee plan, including an increase in the budget and the extension of the programme to all people under the age of 30. They also make a clear commitment to student mobility.
The Liberals propose more opportunities for young people through education and training, and a concrete pledge is made to direct EU structural funds towards the creation of jobs for young people.
The European Green Party calls for the Youth Guarantee to be adequately funded and have a real job creation policy. It also commits to ending unfair internships and to tackling the issue of ‘brain drain’ of young people. Its manifesto also mentions the need to end age-related discrimination and to lowering the voting age to 16.
The European Left calls for austerity measures to stop and for the re-launch of economic activity to meet social needs and fight against precariousness and unemployment, especially among young people.
Finally, the European Alliance for Freedom also writes about the need for effective solutions to reduce unemployment, but at member state level, and not via EU common policies.
We hope that the rising prominence that parties give to key issues that affect youth will contribute to engaging young people in the elections. Almost 65% of young people (aged up to 34 years) did not vote in the 2009 European elections. A recent report published by the League of Young Voters revealed one of the reasons for this: young people feel excluded from politics, and because the issues that concern them are not tackled, apathy towards politics develops.
Perhaps the emergence of youth issues in the 2014 elections will start to tackle this worrying trend. However, youth must not just be a buzzword. Our political leaders need to implement policies that will make a real difference to the difficult situation many of the younger generation now face.