The reverberations from last month's European Elections continue to be felt right across Europe. Politicians and decision-makers are still in a state of shock, specifically about the high vote in certain countries for anti-EU and/or xenophobic parties. It seems that voters have sent a strong signal to politicians and the European institutions and, at the moment, it is not very clear how they will respond. For Europe's young people right now, there is a sense of expectation that things need to change, but will their voice be listened to?
Of course the reasons behind the discontent with Europe are many and complicated, but it seems that the crisis and ensuing austerity measures have triggered a loss of confidence in the EU. Several years after the crisis began, many European countries are still suffering and it is young people that are often bearing brunt, especially in countries such as Greece where youth unemployment rates are staggeringly high.
For Europe's young people, who have often suffered worst from the crisis, many of them - notably in Spain and Italy - have supported left-wing or even far right political parties. Some of these far-right parties are promoting hate-speech, xenophobia, nationalist and Eurosceptic ideas.
But is the rise of the populists parties - the likes of UKIP in the UK and the Front National in France - a comment on what young people themselves think of Europe? Well looking at France, despite of its high score, Front National is not the "1st party" as they claim to be, in fact, they actually lost votes compared to the last national elections in 2012. And when it comes to young people 73% of those aged under 35 did not vote. So indeed most French young people could well be supportive of Europe, but they did not vote - probably because they feel disenfranchised - they want change, but the more mainstream parties are failing to convince the average guy/girl on the street that they too can offer this change. This support for far-right parties should therefore be seen as a call for Europe to change; to become more democratic and transparent and inclusive to its young people.
From our experience at the European Youth Forum, we find that young people are more pro-European, more open to diversity and less closed-minded than the older generation. They are pro-Europe, but often not pro-the European institutions as they exist now. They are generally not supportive of the values carried by these far right, ultra-conservative and Eurosceptic parties, however the mainstream parties failed to convince them that they could make a genuine change.
It is no surprise that young people have a skeptical view about the EU as it currently exists. Generally, when something goes wrong, the EU is a convenient scapegoat used by national governments for implementing unpopular policies. The media often do not help either, reiterating this "blame Brussels" narrative and promoting bad news from Europe, but never the good. The EU is too often portrayed negatively; highlighting the bureaucratic procedures and perceived overspending. This has created a movement to "scale-back" the EU, despite the fact that its bureaucracy is smaller than the size of an average city in Europe.
And with these resources the EU can and does achieve a great deal for its citizens, especially its young citizens. To name just a few: the Erasmus Plus programme gives many young people the chance to live and study abroad; the Youth Guarantee has the potential to help millions of young Europeans get a job and roaming charges for those travelling abroad should soon be scrapped.
The little space there was, prior to the elections to report on them in national media was saved for the phenomenon of the rise of the Eurosceptic/extreme parties, but often without a critical approach. It is easy to criticize rather than construct, and with its coverage the media are at risk of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Young people and the crisis that has affected them were at the heart of the electoral campaign, particularly for those candidates hoping to be the next president of the European Commission. In fact, the very first televised debate that the main candidates took part in was organised by the European Youth Forum and focused particularly on the future of Europe for its young citizens. It is therefore particularly worrying for those that care about young people and their rights that the Eurosceptic parties - who are against many of the things that young people across Europe cherish, such as free movement - have seen such a surge in power. Of course, these parties by their very nature are anti-Europe and so, if they even attend the European Parliament they will be there primarily to block or derail legislation and measures, many of which have the possibility of helping Europe exit the crisis.
The Youth Forum believes that now is not the time for the EU to pull back, but to really seize the chance to make a difference and demonstrate to the far-right anti-EU parties how Europe can implement positive change. We call on all new MEPs to join the LoveYouthFuture campaign which shows how Europe can ensure the rights of its young citizens, both now and in the future.