Young Europeans are more politically engaged than they’ve been in decades. However, few of the traditional mainstream political parties have been able to benefit from this. Instead, many young people have been making their voice heard via other means; they take to the streets to protest, get involved online, and vote for smaller parties.
We’ve heard a lot about a “Green wave” of young voters. In Germany, the Greens are now the most popular party among under-30s. According to polling, environmental protection and climate change are key topics for young Germans. In France, similarly, the Greens did relatively well in the recent European Parliament elections, receiving over 3 million votes and taking 28 percent of the 25- to 34-year-old vote share. However, we shouldn’t overstate things; 20 percent of young people also voted for the right-wing populist party of Marine Le Pen.
It’s important not to exaggerate the “Green wave”. In countries like Poland, for example, green parties play a minor role. In the 2019 European elections, the national conservative ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) was able to win the most votes among 18- to 29-year-olds, taking 20 percent of the youth vote, and also win the European elections altogether. For the Law and Justice party, vegetarians, cyclists and renewable energy have nothing in common with “traditional Polish values”. Many young Poles seem to agree with this message, and so vote accordingly. So, clearly there’s no consensus among young Europeans when it comes to the sort of future they want to see.
How should we interpret the youth vote in the European Parliament elections? What sort of future do they want?
What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Daniel, who interprets the youth vote in the European Parliament elections as a wake up call to politicians on the importance of addressing topics young people care about. He says: “After the European elections, the topics of climate change and migration will probably receive more attention in the future. I am curious what effects this will have on the European level.”
To get a response, we put Daniel’s comment to Delphine O, an elected member of the French National Assembly representing the party of Emmanuel Macron, La République En Marche!.
What would she say to Daniel? How would she interpret the youth vote in the European Parliament elections?
I think the European Parliament was given a clear mandate to fight climate change by the [European] elections. We also see that in the new Commission President; Mrs van der Leyen has strongly emphasised the climate issue. That is why I think that this topic is high on the agenda for the [European] Parliament and the Commission. The topic of migration was – as expected – also very important in the European elections.
In France, but also in other countries, it is healthy to see that the youth are politically heterogeneous. There is this progressive, liberal trend in politics, or there is the other extreme – even young people voted for the far-right party, National Rally. So the young generation often wants change, albeit with very different political directions. They want new policies and no longer accept old-fashioned ideas. Although the extreme right does not really want to try new things, their politics are neither good for humans nor the planet. But radical parties seem to be attractive to young people, left or right.
To get a different perspective, we also spoke to Gabriele Woidelko. She is Head of History and Politics at the Körber Foundation, a German nonprofit organisation promoting debate on society, history, and politics. As an expert on Eastern Europe, Gabriele Woidelko often works with young Polish people. How would she respond to Daniel?
Following the European elections, it’s clear that migration and the environment are very important topics for young people. With regard to Polish young people, however, the subject of climate hardly plays a role when it comes to European politics. According to recent studies, young Poles are much more interested in health and social policy. Migration, economy, and health are the most important issues for Polish young people. That certainly has a lot to do with the national discussion in Poland. That’s why I believe that, despite the general trends that we see for young people in Europe, it is very important to look at national differences as well. As far as the environmental issue is concerned, Poland is a very clear exception.
What future do you want? How should we interpret the youth vote in the 2019 European Parliament elections? Was it a clear mandate for radical green policies to address climate change and other issues? Or is there as little consensus within generations as between them? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!