Giving young people a voice
(by Charlotte Barsky - board member of Volt France)
In her State of the EU address, Ursula von der Leyen said "2022 will be the year of European youth". Yes, Europe's youth is essential, as it represents the future of the EU. But no, the speech of the President of the European Commission is not enough: speeches have no impact without concrete action. While some initiatives were presented, such as the ALMA programme to help young people enter the labour market, no real progress was announced to build a relationship of trust between young people and European leaders. In order to give young people a real decision-making weight, it is necessary to give them a space for collaboration which is currently missing in 2021, in a world where being young and activist are not well anchored in school education.
Social media allow young people to express themselves because they are not listened to by the traditional media, which is not interested in their demands. How can we give a voice to young people to enable them to assert themselves, to evolve in order to become the leaders of tomorrow? First of all, we need to listen to them in order to understand where this lack of confidence in politics comes from. Then it is a matter of (re)opening an intergenerational and inclusive dialogue, so that everyone can listen to each other, whatever their age, origin or gender.
Young people's unstable trust in politics
Distrust of politics is not new, and is not only seen in the polls but also in elections. Electoral abstention has been growing steadily in recent years. It is explained in particular by a feeling of abandonment on the part of politicians who do not respond to citizens' concerns or do not provide the expected answers.
The European elections are a clear signal of a worrying lack of trust: only half of EU citizens turned out to vote in 2019. The main reasons for this lack of interest in European politics are a crisis of representation and a feeling of distance from the European institutions, which appear complex and whose decision-making processes are poorly explained.
Paradoxically, young people voted the most in these elections. David Sassoli, President of the European Parliament, recognised these results as a sign of a European youth that sees politics as being able to connect its ambitions to the concerns of young people. Today, if young people are rather massively abstaining, as observed in the 2021 regional elections, they are acting in other ways such as collective actions for social change, notably against global warming and for the protection of human rights.
(Re)opening the dialogue between a represented generation and a generation in need of consideration
There is often a disconnect between young people and political leaders. Young people sometimes feel that they are not listened to, and take refuge in social networks, which can be a source of both information and disinformation. At Volt, we are committed to popularising our communication content, and we use scientific data to actively fight against fake news.
One of today's problems is the feeling that politics is only for one group of people. At Volt, we put citizens at the heart of the process, enabling everyone to engage in politics, especially young people, who are usually not taken seriously when expressing their political views. Some young activists have already succeeded in breaking through this barrier and bringing about real change. Greta Thunberg, for example, warned world leaders at the age of 15 about the impact of climate change and the need to act quickly to save future generations. However, not everyone has the capacity to make their voice heard. That is why we believe it is essential to open up spaces for debate in schools, because we believe that young people's confidence is first developed in the educational sphere.
Include all young people: everyone can act for their future
Including young people means ensuring that no one is left behind. This includes young women, who still lack representation in politics, as well as groups that are usually forgotten. Volt is committed to supporting young people from under-represented minorities, such as those with disabilities, LGBTQIA+, refugees and young people in difficulty. This involves active advocacy, counselling and dialogue with those who appear disconnected or isolated. It also means fighting against violence in the school and family context: informing, listening to victims and giving them a place to feel protected, punishing the perpetrators and enabling everyone to reintegrate into society.
The second step is to create a space where young people can express themselves. Volt will be present at the European Youth Forum on 8 and 9 October 2021.
We do not stop there; we want to democratise these initiatives to all young people. Indeed, they are still reserved for a category of young people: those who have received an education that allows them to make their voice heard, but also young people who have had the opportunity to participate in these types of events. At Volt, we are committed to giving a real voice to the youth of Europe so that they can be involved in decision-making.