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It's Time for A Generational Takeover

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BrusselsPoliticsEuropean Elections 2014

|Opinion| Rather than turn­ing their backs on the de­mo­c­ra­tic sys­tem, young peo­ple need to get en­gaged and go out and vote, now more than ever, in order to pro­tect their in­ter­ests, fight dis­crim­i­na­tion, and safe­guard democ­racy against an as­sault from the far-right.

With less than two months to go until the Eu­ro­pean elec­tions the EU stands at an im­por­tant junc­ture. In­equal­ity has grown over the past five years and Eu­ro­pean po­lit­i­cal en­gage­ment is at an all time low as Eu­ro­peans have be­come in­creas­ingly ex­as­per­ated with aus­ter­ity poli­cies and a lack of imag­i­na­tion by the po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment. No more is this sense of hope­less­ness felt than among young peo­ple, with over 5 mil­lion under 25s un­em­ployed across the EU. 

Pa­tro­n­is­ing Blather

When the British co­me­dian Rus­sell Brand stated last year that he had never voted and that “the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal sys­tem is noth­ing more than a bu­reau­cratic means for fur­ther­ing the aug­men­ta­tion and ad­van­tages of eco­nomic elites” he not only at­tracted head­lines, he also spoke to many young peo­ple who were tired of the pa­tro­n­is­ing blather that many mid­dle aged politi­cians wheel out at elec­tion time. Six months on the video of his in­ter­view has al­most 10 mil­lion hits on the BBC’s News­night youtube chan­nel, over nine mil­lion more than any other video.

While Brand’s rhetoric may speak to the scruffy an­ar­cho-syn­di­cal­ist stu­dent ver­sions of our­selves, it is fun­da­men­tally flawed: as young peo­ple have with­drawn from the de­mo­c­ra­tic sys­tem their in­ter­ests have be­come in­creas­ingly mar­gin­alised. Rather than turn­ing to protests, com­mu­nity ac­tion groups or or­gan­is­ing po­lit­i­cally-themed sewing cir­cles, all forms of po­lit­i­cal ex­pres­sion among young peo­ple are in de­cline. As a re­sult gov­ern­ments now over­whelm­ingly serve older peo­ple; which in­creas­ingly means richer peo­ple.

For an ex­am­ple of what hap­pens when young peo­ple don’t vote we need to look no fur­ther than the UK. The UK has the low­est turnout of under 30s at elec­tions in the EU, it has also wit­nessed some of the most ar­bi­trary mea­sures against young peo­ple. Uni­ver­sity tu­ition fees of over €10,000 per year would be un­think­able in other mem­ber states where young peo­ple are more likely to ex­press their dis­sat­is­fac­tion at the polling booth. The gov­ern­ment has al­ready promised to strip young peo­ple under 25 of their right to un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits if re-elected. By con­trast older peo­ple have been largely pro­tected, re­tain­ing free pub­lic trans­port and TV li­censes. This de­spite the fact that the re­tired have com­par­a­tively im­proved their eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion since the onset of the cri­sis, while youth and child poverty has grown.

The sad re­al­ity is that when fi­nance Min­is­ters sign off aus­ter­ity bud­gets aimed at older peo­ple they are com­mit­ting po­lit­i­cal sui­cide, when they aim aus­ter­ity mea­sures to­wards young peo­ple they are in for a few harsh words on Twit­ter.

But some­thing even more dis­con­cert­ing is also hap­pen­ing, in ad­di­tion to mov­ing to­wards a more un­equal so­ci­ety we are also mov­ing to­wards a more xeno­pho­bic and na­tion­al­is­tic Eu­rope, with the ex­treme-right slowly grow­ing dur­ing the cri­sis, cap­i­tal­is­ing on the gen­eral dis­sat­is­fac­tion cre­ated by eco­nomic in­sta­bil­ity and si­mul­ta­ne­ously stok­ing eth­nic and so­cial ten­sions. Their semi-po­lit­i­cal di­a­tribe is in total op­po­si­tion to the val­ues of our gen­er­a­tion: young peo­ple are more open, tol­er­ant and pro­gres­sive than pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions. But young peo­ple have been made to feel ir­rel­e­vant and have thus re­moved them­selves from the de­bate. Many now look on pas­sively at the dis­pro­por­tional and dan­ger­ous surge in sup­port for par­ties that, in the­ory, should not be more than an im­per­ti­nent and ir­ri­tat­ing mi­nor­ity.

Young peo­ple need to stand up, claim their rights and de­mand a Eu­rope that is de­fined by sol­i­dar­ity and tol­er­ance, rather than di­vi­sion, fear and elit­ism. So­cial media, protests and being in­volved in NGOs are im­por­tant tools to change so­ci­ety, but the most im­por­tant is still the most mun­dane: tick­ing a box on a sheet of paper. Sim­ply by par­tic­i­pat­ing in elec­tions young peo­ple will in­crease their rel­e­vance and pro­mote their as­pi­ra­tions.

It can be irk­some to vote for par­ties that haven’t done enough to pro­tect your in­ter­ests, or have stood by and watched your un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits being cut with lit­tle more than a whim­per; but post-elec­tion when the stats are being tot­ted up politi­cians will see that they now need to keep our de­mo­graphic happy to stay in power. If young peo­ple build on this by get­ting in­volved in po­lit­i­cal par­ties and chang­ing them from within we could see some major changes be­tween now and the next elec­tions. We can also help stop Eu­rope from be­com­ing a dan­ger­ous, re­ac­tionary and iso­lated place.

Don’t be fooled by those that say “politi­cians are all the same”, a quick glance at myvote2014.​eu will show how dif­fer­ent their per­spec­tives can be. Even more im­por­tant is that some politi­cians be­lieve in tol­er­ance and equal­ity, while some do not. The chal­lenge is huge, noth­ing short of a de­mo­c­ra­tic rev­o­lu­tion will do. Our par­ents’ gen­er­a­tion is los­ing eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal con­trol of Eu­rope. It is up to us to win it back.