Just six months away from the next elections to the European Parliament (May 2014), Europe’s politicians face the ever-increasing challenge of disconnection with the electorate. The most striking evidence is clearly the level of abstention Europe-wide in the 2009 elections, reaching 57%, the highest since the first European elections in 1979. The main reason by far for abstaining was the lack of trust or the dissatisfaction with politics in general (28%), while 17% stated that voting would not change anything, constituting the second main reason for abstaining.
Looking more closely to these 2009 results, another key lesson for Europe’s politicians is the extremely high and growing level of abstention among young voters: in 2009, 71% of the 18-24 did not vote, up from 64% in 2004. With youth unemployment reaching new heights and gloomy economic perspectives, the danger of further disconnection between Europe’s policy-makers and its youth becomes real.
Is there a way out of that negative spiral? The development and use of social media platforms in Europe may bring a more positive outlook to this challenge. With 79% of the 15-24 using the internet every day/almost every day in Europe, politicians have an incredible opportunity to engage directly and personally with the younger generation, if they come to terms with 21st century politics. Some do. A 2011 survey of Members of the European Parliament showed that 95% of MEPs believed that personal contact was an effective communications tool. At the same time, 69% of MEPs use social networks extensively. So every new initiative which will bring these two aspects together – online personal interaction – between European policy-makers and (young) voters should be welcome and supported.
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