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Political participation starts at school

 


School plays a key role in getting European youth involved in politics according to a project on political participation of young Europeans funded by the EU’s Research Framework Programme. Political behaviour and attitudes are also linked to family, the circle of friends and the type of media young people use. The EUYOUPART project collected data from 8030 young people (15-25) from 8 European countries (Austria, Italy, Slovakia, Germany, Estonia, Finland, France and the UK) on the factors that motivate young people to become active in politics. The project, which received 1.3m euros of European funding, provides a useful insight into how young Europeans understand politics and how they choose to participate. Its findings show the importance of initiatives such as the European Spring Day, which engage young Europeans in debate about their aspirations for the EU and allow them to gain awareness of European issues.

The study shows that schools are ideal for making young people aware of the merits of participation through student unions or political discussions in class. Young people who tend to be active within their school are generally active outside as well and also after they leave school. There is also evidence that young people who have been class representatives get involved at a later stage in electoral campaigns.

The role of family and friends is equally important in bringing young people closer to politics. In fact, parents play a major role in shaping the political beliefs of their children. On the other hand, it is the circle of friends that influences the way that individuals participate and behave in politics. Only 20% of those interviewed for the study came from politically active families and 16% from politically active friends.

Young Europeans reporting that they follow the news on a daily basis ranged from 11.3% in the UK to 38.4% in Italy. There also a link between the media that young people use to receive information and their political behaviour: those that use newspapers and the internet tend to be more politically active in comparison to those that rely exclusively on television. The study points out that young Europeans who were politically active in the 2004 European Parliament Elections predominantly followed the event through newspapers, radio and the internet. The European Commission has highlighted the need for all European Institutions and Member States to address the issue of low participation in elections among Europe’s younger generation. The information in this study backs up the analysis that a differentiated approach is needed to gain the interest and indeed trust of young people in the democratic process.

Other issues examined by the project include the attitudes of young people towards political parties and NGOs. Although young people trust civil society organisations more than political parties, they still feel close to a political party and continue to believe that voting is the most effective form of political participation. The most politically interested but pessimistic youth is in Germany (51%), contrary to young people in the UK (30%), Estonia (29%) and Slovakia (28%) who are the least interested but most optimistic.

The project was coordinated by the Institute for Social Research and Analysis, Austria and also involved organisations from Italy, Slovakia, Germany, Estonia, the UK, Finland and France.

For more information on the EUYOUPART project:
http://www.sora.at/euyoupart

For additional information
Aris Apollonatos, Press and information officer
Information and communication
DG Research, European Commission
Tel: +32.2.296 7068, Fax: +32.2.295 8220
E-Mail: aris.apollonatos@ec.europa.eu

 

 

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