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  • Writer's pictureMatilde Pozzato

Youth Turnout in the 2024 European Elections

After years of decline, young people’s participation has helped increase voter turnout in the European elections.

“Young Europeans are stakeholders in creating a EU that harmonizes with their values, dreams and priorities,” says member of the European Parliament Kira Marie Peter-Hansen (26). 

The new European Parliament will be elected this year between June 6 and 9. The Parliament is the only European institution elected by the citizens. Throughout the years, however, European citizens have shown general disinterest when it comes to European politics. 

According to data from the European Union (EU), electoral turnout has been declining ever since the first election in 1979.

The situation took a turn in the last elections five years ago, which recorded a 50.6% turnout, the highest since 1994. This unexpected result has been attributed to an overall greater participation of people under 25.

Measures to involve the youth in EU politics

One of the strategies to involve the youth is lowering the voting age. For this coming election, 16-year-olds will be allowed to vote in Belgium, Germany, Malta, and Austria. 17-year-olds will be able to vote in Greece.

“I didn’t vote in 2019 because it was my first year abroad and it was COVID,” says Tudor Stefan (23), a physics master student from Romania who lives in The Netherlands. He could either vote by post or go to The Hague and vote on-site but voting from abroad is more complicated than he realized and he didn’t get around to organizing it in time for the elections. 

It is important to remove the barriers to voting from abroad as many young people might not live in their country of residence. 

“I have a right to vote. I have a responsibility to vote,” continues Tudor, which is why he will vote this June.

Lowering the age to run in the elections is another way to appeal to young people. In most EU countries the minimum age to candidate is 18, while in others is 21. Only in Greece and Italy the minimum age is set at 25.

How do young people learn about European politics?

“I got good basis in school,” says Alisa Suvikas (22). She is from Finland and doing a bachelor’s in European Languages and Cultures with a specialization in European Politics, which is why she is very informed and interested in the upcoming elections.

“I know the basics of the EU from high school,” says Iris Scholte (23), “but it’s so huge, complex, and bureaucratic that it’s hard to fully understand how it works.”

Iris is a master’s student in journalism from The Netherlands and gets most of her information on the EU from news platforms.

“I only just realized they [the elections] were coming up,” continues Iris. She thinks that both her country and the EU should do more to remind citizens that it will be time to vote soon.

“There is this image that EU politics happen in Brussels but obviously they happen all over Europe and they affect us all,” explains Alisa. She suggests sending mail to European citizens with information about the elections as a way to breach the distance that people feel between them and the EU. She appreciated receiving this type of mail for the Finnish elections in January.

The municipality of Groningen has sent a letter about the elections to European citizens who legally reside in The Netherlands but do not have Dutch nationality. European residents in The Netherlands have two options: they can vote for members of the country in which they hold citizenship or they can vote for Dutch members. The letter explains the procedure.

“I don’t know anything about the EU”

“I just don’t see it on social media or anywhere,” says Elianne Vening (20), a bachelor’s student from The Netherlands. She says the EU should explain to citizens what they do and why their vote is important. 

“I don’t know anything about the EU,” continues Elianne. “In The Netherlands, I vote because I know which parties I support, and which parties I absolutely do not support.”

“I can look stuff up, of course,” says Elianne, but she is not sure if she is going to vote because she doesn’t feel informed about European politics and she is not very interested in it. “Maybe, I will look it up.”

“Back home, they do a horrible job at explaining these kinds of things,” explains Tudor. Everything he knows about Europe comes from looking it up himself. “When it comes to making a decision I like to be as informed as I can be.”

It is important to include EU politics in schools around Europe to explain to young people that their future is shaped by electoral results.

Do young people recognize the importance of their vote?

If in 2014 young people were those who participated the least, in 2019 they participated 50% more than in the previous round.

“It’s about our future,” says Iris. It’s important that young people vote but that’s not enough. “The old grey people have to do something about our current struggles,” she says, “or we’re left to deal with an enormous mess that maybe we can’t solve anymore.”

The European Union itself has taken steps to speak to the youth, from opening a TikTok profile for the European Parliament where they explain how the parliament works and how citizens can be involved, to inviting celebrities like Taylor Swift to encourage young Europeans to cast their vote.

“We set up an account on this platform to reach young people with reliable and trustworthy information ahead of the elections,” said the EU Parliament’s social media team about their TikTok profile.

“The Parliament plays a crucial role in shaping EU policies,” explains Peter-Hansen. She is the youngest member of the European Parliament, elected when she was only 21. She is now the Vice-Chair of the Greens/European Free Alliance group. She encourages young Europeans to vote to live in a Europe that represents them and to make sure that it remains “inclusive, democratic, and responsive to the needs of all its citizens, including the younger generations.”

“Everybody’s voice should be heard” 

Even if many young people are not very informed or interested in European politics, they agree about the importance of voting.

“We have different visions and it is important to vote,” says Elianne. She refers to climate change as one of the most important instances when young people have to vote if they want to see a change. “We have to deal with it in our future,” she says, “whereas older people maybe don’t care about it that much.”

“The youth starts the future,” points out Tudor, and young people should care about voting because they are the ones inheriting this world.

“It’s really sad how many people don’t vote,” says Alisa, “everybody’s voice should be heard, especially young people's.”

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