Europe

Are Europe’s young people fed up with the EU?

A woman walks past graffiti depicting a young girl trying to reach stars from the EU flag on 18 February 2012 in Athens, Greece Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Youths are Europe's future - but increasing numbers have been alienated by unemployment and economic stagnation

The UK's Brexit vote and the rise of anti-EU parties across Europe are signs of widespread disillusionment with the EU.

Those aged under 25 have been hit especially hard by unemployment, as the aftershocks of the 2008 financial crash and eurozone crisis continue.

A Eurobarometer opinion poll in April found that 57% of young people in the EU felt socially excluded because of the economic crisis. And in hard-hit Greece and Portugal the figures were 93% and 86%, respectively.

The EU has tried to help young people through various schemes, notably the Youth Guarantee, aimed at getting school-leavers into a "quality" first job, and Erasmus+, which offers grants to study or get work experience in another EU country.

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A German MEP, Manfred Weber, is also campaigning for all 18-year-olds to get a free InterRail pass.

The BBC asked Brussels-based correspondents from Italy, Greece, Poland and Finland to explain what the EU means for young people in their countries.


Italy - Chiara De Felice, Ansa news agency:

Italians like Europe in general - young people especially like programmes such as Erasmus or Leonardo - a work-exchange programme for graduates.

Young Italians like to travel a lot, they like not having to show their passport in Europe. France and Spain are popular, as our languages are similar. Not only for holidays, but they like to do summer jobs there.

Image caption Europe could do more to build enthusiasm among its youth, says Chiara De Felice

But one of the biggest problems is youth unemployment. There's a feeling that no politician is doing enough to tackle it.

The EU brought in the Youth Guarantee, but in Italy the numbers are still not very good. So there is disillusionment about that. But among young Italians you can't find any who don't want to be part of Europe.

It's very difficult for the EU to communicate what it is doing for the citizens. Europe could do a lot more to get young people in touch with the EU, and become Euro-enthusiasts again.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Young Italians are finding that EU membership doesn't always mean work for them

The Eurosceptics have got stronger in Italy, and those anti-EU movements include all age groups. But it's more an internal, Italian problem - it's the politicians' fault for not explaining what the EU is doing.


Greece - Ioannis Antypas, Protothema newspaper:

Like most things in Greece these days the youth scene is extremely polarised. The majority is very anti-EU, against the European establishment. The reasons for that vary though.

Young people tend to be very disillusioned, both with the Greek state and the EU, mostly because of the EU's inability to deliver solutions, especially jobs.

Image caption Young people in Greece can't easily be reached through EU social media campaigns, says Ioannis Antypas

Greece has one of Europe's biggest youth unemployment rates. There is a minority which is very engaged and pro-EU, they are aware of programmes like the Youth Guarantee, and they are very vocal about it. But I'd say they make up 15% at best.

Young Greeks are very engaged with social media, but broad EU campaigns via Twitter or Facebook won't reach those who don't want to be reached by the EU. Youths are clustered around certain websites or information sources, and are not easily reached by EU campaigns.

The Erasmus programme is very well known in Greece, and is sought-after by both pro- and anti-EU groups, equally. Programmes like that are seen favourably by everyone, which is a bit of a paradox.


Poland - Tomasz Bielecki, Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper:

Now young people in Poland are less engaged with the EU than they were 10 years ago.

In Poland and Central Europe, unlike in Western Europe, young people are voting more for Eurosceptic parties - more than older people. There is a real hunger for identity, after 12 years in the EU.

Image caption Young Poles now compare themselves to Germans, and they feel disappointed, says Tomasz Bielecki

Young people are looking for nationalist, 19th-Century ideas about identity. It's quite strange, because they are actually the first generation that can exploit EU membership fully. They can study or work in Paris, or London - but now that's nothing new for them.

The young people who went to work in Western Europe are the most cosmopolitan, most open - and they have stayed there, so they have no impact on Polish public opinion or voting.

We haven't had real austerity in Poland, and the income gap between rich and poor is narrowing. Still, many young people feel disappointed.

People of my age are used to comparing themselves with neighbouring Ukrainians or Belarusians, and we are happy to be part of the EU. But people like my cousins in their 20s compare themselves with Germans.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Young people now take open borders for granted

EU initiatives like the Youth Guarantee don't have much impact in Poland. And young people regard the Erasmus programme as just a fact of life, they don't even identify it with the EU.


Finland - Pekka Mykkanen, Helsingin Sanomat newspaper:

A small fraction of the youth are EU enthusiasts, such as those exposed to InterRail or the Erasmus programmes. It's usually those who would like to have a job in another country.

A survey in March showed that young Finns were the most positive about the EU, of any age group in Finland. When they were asked how they would vote in a referendum on EU membership, 71% of that age group said they would vote to stay in. But the average figure for Finns was 56%.

Image caption Some young Finns are calling for a "Fixit" vote (over whether to leave the EU), but Pekka Mykkanen doesn't think the proposal will succeed

A populist Finnish MEP got tens of thousands of signatures in a Citizen's Initiative to get Finland out of the euro, so parliament has to consider it. But I think Finland is really a pro-euro country.

It often boils down to practical things - people like ease of travel, they don't like having to change money. Those simple improvements that the EU has brought are very popular among young people in Finland.

A lot of Finns use the Erasmus scheme. Many of the Finns working in EU institutions have an Erasmus background.

The populist Finns Party is in government and their youth wing has been calling for a "Fixit" vote - like Brexit. But I don't think that idea has any legs.