Traditionally, voter turnout in European elections has not looked good. This spring, there is the additional risk of election exhaustion, as people don’t necessarily have the energy for a European election after the month-long buzz preceding the Finnish parliamentary election. Furthermore, both the political parties and the media invested most of their resources in the latter. And yet, there is a lot going on this year at the EU level. Finland’s presidency of the Council of the European Union begins in July, and thanks to the election of the new European Parliament, important topics such as education and the status of science can be brought to the forefront.
In the European election, the student movement is pushing for the accessibility of education. We believe that education should be available to all regardless of socioeconomic background or wealth. Mobility related to studying, working and travelling should be made smoother within the EU. The EU must preserve a civic society where young people and underrepresented groups also have a genuine opportunity to make their voice heard, from the local level to that of the entire union. Representative democracy must receive increasing emphasis in EU policies. The European Parliament is the only body elected through a direct election – its authority in EU decision-making must be increased.
The European election should be of interest to all of us; after all, many decisions are made at the EU level that have an impact on Finland. However, the turnout of young Finns in the last European election was a dismal 10%. In other words, 90% of people between 18 and 24 years of age didn’t even vote for Donald Duck for the European Parliament, whereas in Sweden, 66% of young people cast their vote in the 2014 election. Why don’t we Finnish young people vote?
It’s not that we don’t have an interest in the EU. On the contrary, according to a survey conducted by JEF-Finland, 81% of Finnish young people consider EU membership a good thing. They identify themselves as Europeans, and no wonder. Our generation has grown up in an increasingly international world where the evolution of the internet has made geographical distances irrelevant.
However, young people need information to vote. There should be more news about the European Parliament from a more balanced and positive standpoint. At the moment, reporting on the parliament’s activities is often solely focused on the negative, or the restrictions set by the EU. There should also be more reactive and topical reporting. It’s not enough to communicate on matters that have already been decided in practice.
More writing should also be published on the European election and on opportunities to have a say in the EU. If young people feel their voice is insignificant and their impact negligible, their absence at the polling booth should come as no surprise. Indeed, the public discourse should also address what the EU has to offer to the young. Do they know, for example, what kind of opportunities the Erasmus programme offers?
I challenge you to write and talk about the EU and European election, emphasising in your contributions what the EU offers, how decisions by the EU are evidenced in Finland and how Finnish young people can have their say. Let’s make sure that the young know that voting matters also in this election!
Board member of the Student Union of the University of Helsinki