The answer to the above question is not a rhetorical one. My name is Luciano. I am twenty-two years of age. I arrived to Estonia in 2017; I am a third-year degree student of social sciences at Tallinn University, since. My background is a mix of Chile-Spain and madness about foreign languages. Currently I am an intern at the Estonian e-Governance Academy (eGA). In this blog, I would like to walk you through the EMY – a project run by eGA; its most thought-provoking findings, and my views on them.
“EMY” stands for “Empowerment of Mobile Youth in the EU” – a project co-funded by the European Commission and jointly implemented by partners from Estonia, Austria and the UK. EMY is looking to identify the reasons why young mobile EU citizens, like you and me, are not eager to exercise their voting rights; also, EMY tries and to find ways to encourage more active democratic engagement and participation, especially in the life of their host country (meaning the country they live in).
So, EMY launched a pre-election survey back in April and May 2019 as well as organized several focus groups. In this first phase EMY assessed attitude, and interest of young European citizens towards the 2019 European Parliament elections. I happened to be one of the focus group participants in Tallinn.
Why did I give it a shot, and participated in the project?
So, I used to be numb to massive demonstrations, outrageous comments by politicians from left to right. I did not feel it up until I realized as long as there are still some of us worse off, we won’t have a more fair society. And I want to live in a fair society. Simple as that.
It is obvious that the youth is not as engaged in politics as other demographic groups. As the EMY findings demonstrated, the great majority of survey respondents were not aware of their right to stand as candidates in their host country. EU politics is neglected to more practical benefits such as easier mobility and scholarships.
We can definitely sort of guess why there is so little knowledge about these political rights…As one student in a focus group said: “If one doesn’t have an education about it, it is hard to understand it. That’s probably why people rather leave it then…”
In my view, the EU has the same sort of influence as our national governments have, but there is a lack of political engagement because it is hard for us to relate to this other entity. I think it is similar to climate change: we know it is going on, but we cannot get a grasp of it…
So, why don’t we open up more to EU politics?
As I said in the beginning, I like to get talking in languages; polyglot-style. But in reality, language could be just too easily a major deterrent in cultivating interest in politics, or act as a catalyst for much engagement, when it comes to engagement in the host country.
I would claim that learning any foreign language is in itself a very valuable tool you want in your skill-box. However, not speaking the local tongue does create a barrier, as supported by the findings. As they suggest, engagement in local politics in Austria and Estonia is strongly deterred by the language barrier.
I recall, there were lots of campaigning going on at the time of the elections. They would catch me on YouTube. While the ad sometimes would manage keep me interested enough as to click onto their site, all of the most critical information would be in Estonian. (I have nothing against you, Estonian language, but you are difficult).
So I would lose all interest right then. Unless I am into the topic, I do not pay attention. My peers in general were in agreement that this was the case. In my mind, the removal of language as a deterring factor for political engagement is a must.
Strike up a dialogue in a language you both understand and you will have more people voting, and not just for their home-country candidate. This would rather allow the motivation to participate in the host country’s politics based on the information you may now understand.
In fact 66% of the students surveyed in Austria were not actively following on the local politics, and as much as 71% as for Estonia.
But language alone does not explain why we do not utilize the political rights we have vis-a-vi the EU. Yes, it can affect the amount of information we absorb, and whether we vote or not for a local candidates, but administrative issues contributed their share with tight deadlines, which a lot of us as participants missed.
Stuff like this is not as odd as I thought, as my peers voiced similar concerns. But the mentioned issues do stand in the way of more popular participation, and time may be running out for us to decide for ourselves what we want the EU to look like in the future.
Without a doubt, our right to vote, and even to run for the EP are assets noteworthy of turning around the political landscape for good; for one that includes every one of us. Thus, the question is…
How can it be done?
Estonia’s e-voting system has been in place since 2005, and 87% of my peers demonstrated a positive attitude towards it. The system is not in place in Austria, but about 69% of the participants were enthusiastic about it. Personally, e-voting should be used carefully, to ensure the privacy of voters, and avoid foreign interferences in the voting process.
Still, the idea itself may prove rewarding to users. Think about it; we have an almost native knack with technology, and digital medium. Perhaps it would be right for politics to follow sue.
Furthermore, knowing this, politicians and parties running for parliament, or office would bear in mind the newly-fleshed target group that e-voting would bring about. If people now vote online, your campaign better be in cyberspace, fishing around for those votes; the young’s.
The problem is short span of time to get registered to vote, confusing deadlines, lack of a common language to deliver through, that the European youth are looked past by the local political class.
In the focus group I participated, a classmate said that he did not feel it right to sort of to decide for the “Estonian people”, by voting. Besides language being a barrier, and the need for local parties and international youth to engage with each other, it turns out that whether we as EU citizens feel entitled to exercise our rights fully matters just as much. The significance we place on our political rights that we have within the EU needs to be re-evaluated.
At the moment, I will bet you have heard of right-wing populist parties winning people over all around the EU. And I will also bet that you like your Erasmus scholarship, easier mobility, being able to enjoy special tuition fees – sometimes as good as zero … unless you do not think the EP is important enough a tool to steer the boat in the right direction, you should stay where you are.
But making sure the deadlines to register and vote are flexible enough and information is delivered in language we all will catch, is half the battle. The other half is actually voting. The fact of the matter is that voting needs to become less of a burden, and more of a reward in and of itself.
Ultimately, the communication channels are plenty: from getting notified by SMS on your phone, or by email letting you know the precise, and customized information you want not to miss your chance of voting, as well as e-voting, and downgrading the bureaucratic machinery to make it simpler to vote, are not far-fetched out-of-there ideas that came out of the blue.
Every time there is a crisis, we have adjusted, and succeeded. Now we are faced with another crisis; and we may just lose the perks we all enjoy from the membership we share. The EU will rise only as far as we engage with the political landscape that paints our ever-more interconnected world. We young people need to be more interested in it.
Much like with climate change, our influence on the political arena is not felt as directly, and even seems ambiguous. Yet it is our duty to do something about it, and begin taking action together.