As just one of the over 5,000 delegates at this year’s European Youth Event (EYE), it can seem, in the volatile and ever-changing nature of the political system, that much has already changed since that spectacular summit. Hosted in the fever of the final days before the European elections (, where one of its primary attractions was the League of Young Voters stall to make a last minute hook for any doubters), progress and hope seemed to be on the horizon.
The legacy of that time feels to be quite different from the one intended.
At least 30% of MEPs elected can be broadly classed as ‘Eurosceptic’, or in some cases a much darker agenda lies behind their parties - which aim purely at the populist and emotive rhetoric (, as witnessed by the victories of far-right parties in Greece and France). Only a marginal fraction of voter-turnout increase from the 43% turnout in 2009 illustrated a complacency that heads of European institutions had still done too little to address the toxic combination of voter apathy and a declining influence of mainstream parties. The European Youth Event organisers, which had ‘The Future of the European Union’ as one of its important themes for the course of that weekend, must be looking on in further doubt as to the confusion of having far-right politicians now in the heart of the hemicycle – a result that contradicts the purpose of the European project after 1945. Amongst all the other setbacks for youth engagement in the EU, this has to be the single legacy that very few of us would want to inherit.
This month though has seen the publication of the official report from the EYE and proposals brought forward from the European Youth Forum (EYF).
In its introductory summary, it states “There was genuine enthusiasm for the sharing of ideas at the EYE, and many participants expressed a desire to be more involved in EU decision-making processes.” Indeed, it was hard to not notice the tremendous enthusiasm from young people. However, with voter turnout stagnant and no coherent approach by the Parliament to solve the most pressing challenges, the atmosphere created here is unlikely to transpire any further than the corridors of power. Perhaps in some ways it would have been too optimistic to expect a great change only a matter of days before the elections and the extensive coverage of parties, like UKIP in the UK, by Eurosceptic-absorbed media outlets.
Despite these shortcomings, the EYE can be said to have imitated a process of long-term future cooperation with those at the heart of decision making. The new Parliament has now passed a vote to invest over €6 billion in the battle to defeat youth unemployment and ensure that campaigns, like the ‘Youth Guarantee’, may start showing some signs of genuine success. The European Youth Event also presents a clear sign in enhancing the platforms of dialogue amongst the younger generations. A survey before the elections showed that 44% of young people believed that voting was the best way of ‘participating in public life in the EU.’ Other ambitions, such as selecting young candidates as potential MEPs and the recognition of non-formal education schemes, like youth work, as part of our development will give the new Parliament tangible issues in which genuine change can be implemented.
To say that any of these recommendations will become a reality remains premature. The EYE’s report conclusions leave the questions of its ideas in the hands of only those who can act upon them, with the event acting as a soundboard to collect ideas in the first place. It would be advisable to have a wary optimism for action. One of the recommendations, in resolving high youth unemployment and fragmentation of European states, was to propose an existing idea of a federal Europe in which a central government would have authority over the continent.
European Commission President-elect, Jean-Claude Juncker, has already stated his apparent opposition to working towards making this a reality.
Moreover, the new Parliament has already had its less than compliant MEPs in the hemicycle. In a session on the unemployment initiative, newly elected far-right Polish MEP, Janusz Korwin-Mikke, compared the young people unemployed in the union to “neg**es.” Although MEPs such as this sit in a minority, and are unaffiliated to existing groups, it will make those important debates on youth-related debates that much harder.
Read the full EYE Report here.
Press release on the new investment to tackle youth unemployment from the European Youth Forum.