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We love the Youth Wave, loud and proud!

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Translation by:

Elsa Benamouzig

Network

The voting turnout increased by 14% and yet they say the rate does not exceed 39%. What if the youth expressed itself in a different manner than by voting? In Sweden for instance, climate strikes did not influence ballots. Here is the story of our post-electoral feeling on the European level, as told in this long and passionate editorial.

We expected hell. No blood, but sweat and tears for sure. These European elections that ¾ of the citizens ignored, would meet a bleak fate similar to 2008's recovery plans. The day before the election, it felt as if the campaign had never started in the two transalpine countries, and where national context, party politics and a cruel lack of information froze the whole situation. In Italy, people did not have high expectations. The irreversible rise of the leader of the Northern League saw him win everything, including the support of his comrades from the 5 Stars Movement. In France, the short two and a half weeks of political campaigning expressed the lack of energy or ideas devoted to Europe. This happened to an extent where we had to wake up from the pointless national “Great Debate” in order to hush up our sadness in the draw between populism and progress.

It is hard to imagine a worse scenario for crucial the European elections than this. On the last voting day May 26, we already had in mind what the film suggested to the citizens of the Old Continent would look like, as the Palme d’Or was awarded in Cannes—black and white, binary, too long, structures by main characters refusing to meet their part. Sometimes however, small productions won the hearts and minds. To the surprise of those who had already written the end of the story, voters decided to ignite the stars once more. The turnout rate of over 50% was the highest of the past 25 years. Three electoral nights confirmed that Europe put on a show.

Extra bonus: a new typology for the cast. Forgotten, abandoned, despised, the European youth had been closeted in a teenage bedroom for too long, as if we had left it to sleep because it was too late to invite them to dinner. At the dawn of a “new world” they constantly hear about, it was said the youth would not rise again. But for the 9th time European citizens were called upon to cast their votes, the youth responded. For 18-24 year-olds, the turnout increased by 14 percent in comparison to the 2014 elections. 40% of the 25-34 year-olds voted (whereas they were 27% 5 years ago). Some would insist on the fact that half of them did not show up. Except this time, the generation argument does not hold: all age groups went voting in more or less the same proportions.

Around the entire continent, young generations reacted to a few shocks: the impact of Brexit in Scandinavia, the effect of the debate on European integration in the east, the ecological shock waves in France and Germany, the backlash of the rise of populism in Central Europe or the upheavals of the socialists in the Iberian Peninsula. Despite the lack of representation on the scale of institutions, the youth found themselves ground-level inspirations. In the UK, the pro-European movement Momentum played a non-negligible role in the engagement of the 18-35 year-olds after the trauma of their abstention from voting for the 2016 referendum to leave the EU. In Sweden, 16 year-old Greta Thunberg became an international icon by participating with a nascent impulse of civil disobedience. In the Netherlands, the success of the “Prove them Wrong” campaign fighting the stereotypes that picture a lascivious youth who doubled their turnout. It seems the youth of the Old Continent suddenly realised they had elements to preserve. In an uncertain geopolitical context where unpredictable models of society could arise from China, the United States or Russia, the youth is very much aware that the EU has the capacity to protect itself. On its small European island it might survive while everything else is sinking and drowning.

Facing their common fate, they identified the threats against things they took for granted. First the environment—their commitment and votes determined the fate of Green parties in a few countries. Then,many of them voted in favour of emerging parties, digging the knife even deeper into the wound of traditional parties. Teachers can vouch for the fact that the youth shows more and more interest for European institutions. For example, by trying to understand the way great negotiations take place backstage, the Lisbon Treaty, the Transatlantic Free Trade Area and Brexit negotiations. And to understand decisions better through what they experience within their own networks such as the Internet and demonstrations, student protests, international NGOs or simply their group of friends. Being 20 in 2019 makes the motto “one needs full knowledge of order so as to instigate disorder” more accurate than ever.

Overall, the winds of change blow harder on the entire continent along with the claims of a youth tired of waiting for great electoral masses to express itself or any improvement from measures taken by their representatives. So it disobeys. Everyone knows about Fridays for Future, the global strike movements for climate. In Sweden and elsewhere, demonstrations in favour of the preservation of our planet had no effect in the ballot. Green parties regress in the country, going from 21% to 14% for 22-30 year-olds and from 20% to 17% for 18-21 year-olds. This is proof that they are involved in more spaces that their votes. On the entire European continent, they are increasingly involved in other forms of activism, from boycotting to sabotage of infrastructure and even suing the State or supranational entities.

Our generation is most certainly frustrated with politics. Support for parties is breaking down. Inequality is rampant. Combined, these elements disentangle us from our power to act. Then what do we do? We reinvest and create more political opportunities than those offered to us. We restate the importance of the environment due to the threat of climate change and current political crisis. New life experiences bring more and more questions and doubts. We all used to live in the same areas and consume the same things, now we question our values and senses. The uncertainty has become radical. So we focus on things we think we can control, ordinary and daily tasks. In other words, life comes before political expression. And after it comes work, going out, earning money, getting informed, playing sports, making love, fixing a leak, staying strong, getting insurance, helping and creating a start up… and then perhaps, there is time for voting.

Translated from La vague des jeunes, on l'aime et on la raconte