Young people's involvement in politics has recently been increasingly problematic. Loss of community ties, little awareness and knowledge of political procedures, miniscule levels of trust in politicians and growing scepticism of democratic institutes are often seen as indicators of the younger generations’ deteriorated sense of social responsibility and political engagement. Ultimately, this has manifested through low and declining levels of participation in parliamentary elections.
As an EU event attendee and political enthusiast, I strongly believe that my vote in the European elections is significant. The voting system of the EU is pretty self-explanatory. Every five years EU citizens choose who represents them in the European Parliament, under some form of proportional representation. Each member state has the right to elect a fixed number of Members to the European Parliament. Countries with a larger population have more seats than smaller countries. ‘European identity’ to me signifies that I am part of a community that shares somewhat similar views and interests to me; it almost feels as if you are part of an extended family.
When I have the right to vote, I believe that my European identity will mean that much more – as I am allowed to vote for MEPs on issues that affect me. However, similar political enthusiasm is not the case for every young person across Europe. The facts speak for themselves. Contemporary UK politics consists of highly educated, old, middle-class, ethnic majority men. How does this characterise the multiplicity and multiculturalism that Britain conceits itself on? It is upsetting that the average age of an MP is 50 and there are only 147 female MPs in the House of Commons, which is less than a third! We cannot expect young people to engage in politics if it’s seen as something extra-terrestrial to them.
I am certain that the engagement of young people in European politics is a growing problem. The gap is widening; if nothing is done about it, it will continue to grow and we will be faced with a disengaged sector of society. To achieve the reverse we must have ambassadors in schools to give young people more information and different ways to get involved in the EU. The media should also talk more about the benefits of the EU for young people; we need to know that we can take part!
Eurosceptism stems from the initial fact that Britain entered the EU in 1973 hesitantly, without enthusiasm and in a moment of short-lived economic apprehension. People have turned against the purpose of the EU as they believe it is simply not needed. Now that there is the possibility of an EU referendum, this situation will only get worse. However, Europe will continue to deal with important issues after the elections in May, such as consolidating the environmental sustainability of European aquaculture. Not to mention the rising deadline of the Millennium development goals, as well as general issues such as youth political engagement in politics and the awareness of the EU.
We can no longer postpone, waiting for change to come to us. We must grab hold of this opportunity and make sure that the EU is known about, and show that we care. After all, we want political engagement and above all we want a say in matters that affect us as EU citizens. I believe that by doing this, we will be able to ensure that young people make a habit of voting, and help us towards a new age of European and domestic politics.
By Saadia Sajid