Young people put their trust in the EU
Politics might not be every young Europeans’ cup of tea, but many adolescents taking part in the EUYOUPART research do believe in democracy, voting, NGOs and even the European Institutions. The results of the investigation by Austrian researchers into what Europe’s youth think about politics and democracy were presented at a symposium in Brussels over the summer.
Austrian researchers delivered the findings of their two-year study into young people’s perception of politics and European democracy. EU representatives at the July symposium, called ‘Why participate? Youth, Politics and the Future of European Democracy’, showed great interest in the diverse and sometimes polarised views held by young people in the eight EU countries where face-to-face interviews took place.
|Young Europeans have more on their minds than politics, but interest in the subject does appear to increase with age.|
Ensuring that the data collected could be compared and analysed was a major challenge faced by the Institute for Social Research and Analysis (SORA) which carried out the study with the help of EU Fifth Research Framework Programme (FP5) funding. This meant taking into account different political cultures and levels of participation, different research traditions across the eight countries surveyed, as well as difficulties translating culturally specific terms.
Delegates at the symposium heard that, between 2003 and 2005, a total of 8 030 Europeans aged 15 to 25 were interviewed. Of these, 53% were still in school, 34% had already joined the workforce and the rest were unemployed or made no mention of their status. In addition to presenting the EUYOUPART (Political Participation of Young People in Europe – Development of Indicators for Comparative Research in the European Union) findings and methodology, the event also sought to stimulate debate on how to motivate youth participation in European democracy.
The majority of youth shows little interest in politics, according to the study. Germany is at the top of the table of those expressing an interest with 51%, followed by Italy (43%) and Austria (42%). Propping up the table is the UK with 30%, Estonia (29%) and Slovakia (28%). Overall, however, the level of interest rose with age. Most of those questioned in the eight countries (Austria, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Slovakia and the UK) believe that voting is the most effective form of political participation, and a high percentage actually cast their vote.
Idealism but also some scepticism
Although European youth displays a fairly consistent lack of trust in political parties across the countries investigated, many feel close to a certain party – largely influenced by their parents and sometimes friends. NGOs, such as Greenpeace and Amnesty International, garner the most trust among young people who believe working for these organisations to be “more effective” than working for political parties.
“The European Institutions (i.e. the European Parliament and Commission) enjoy more trust than the national institutions in the respective countries,” notes the study. “Politicians and parties at national level are least trusted, however national parliament receives a trust bonus in all countries except Slovakia. Although their trust in parties is generally very low, a majority of the interviewed youth says they feel close to a certain party, especially in Italy (71%) and Finland (68%). Young Britons feel least attached (23%).”
How young people view the future separates the countries. While a large majority of young Estonians expect a better and brighter future than their parents’ generation, Austrian and German youngsters were much more pessimistic. Slovakian and British youths are somewhat more optimistic, as are the French who are positive about their job prospects.
But young Europeans are polarised by politics. Idealism is pervasive throughout the countries – nearly 70% think politics can solve international and/or social problems, and over 40% think it can create a better world. But scepticism creeps in as well, with sentiments such as “empty promises” (46% agreed with this), “corruption” (35%), and “old men’s game” (30%) striking a chord with the youth.
“As a social and political form of expressing their opinion, political protest (i.e. demonstrations and strikes) are rather important for [young Europeans]. New social movements and new political organisations are well considered and are more attractive than the traditional ones,” the study points out.
Institute for Social Research and Analysis (SORA)
Research Contacts page
(July 14 2005 symposium and research results in EN)