The United Kingdom last week voted to leave the EU in a referendum that garnered worldwide attention. Stunned and angered by the results, young people across the U.K. have spoken out, many pointing out the future of the country has been dictated by the older generation.
While 52 percent of all voters selected “leave,” younger voters were more likely to vote “remain”: According to Lord Ashcroft Polls, only 27 percent of people aged 18 to 24 supported Brexit, compared to 60 percent of pensioners.
Voter turnout was also lower in areas with more young people — of the 30 areas with the highest number of elderly citizens, 27 voted to leave.
Turnout by young voters has been declining across Europe, and membership in political parties has dwindled. Germany is no exception. There is a small representation of young people in established German political parties.
Germany’s young politicians, however, are adamant about reviving the younger generation’s engagement in politics, particularly in the wake of Brexit.
They shared their thoughts with HuffPost Germany.
“Political engagement is worth the effort.”
The decision taken by a majority of the British populace to end the United Kingdom’s participation in the European Union shocked us all. More than anything else, I empathize with the young Brits, a majority of whom voted to stay in the EU.
We share the conviction with them that the future of our continent doesn’t lie in a return to the classical nation-states of the 19th and 20th centuries, but rather in a society of sovereign European states within the European Union.
If you’re not engaged, you’re letting other people make decisions for your future.
The EU urgently needs to reform in a way that would strengthen its democratic legitimacy and its political position. The division of power should fall under stronger regulation, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity. That’s something we should fight for together and in an engaged manner.
It’s also true that turnout was lower for younger voters. We have to make it more clear that political engagement is worth the effort! If you’re not engaged, you’re letting other people make decisions for your future.”
— Paul Ziemiak, chair of the Young Union, the Christian Democratic Union’s youth organization
“Brexit was a wake-up call.”
If, as young people, we seek to advance our own interests, we have to explain the differences among the political parties, and that every vote makes a difference, because it affects our society.
In that sense, Brexit was a wake-up call to everyone — it proved how fast things that seem self-evident can change. We have to clearly identify the direction we want our society to go in. Young people want to know our vision for our society in 30 years.
Brexit was a wake-up call to everyone — it proved how fast things that seem self-evident can change.
They have the right to demand a vision from us. We have to make young people more visible — so that they can represent the younger generation and its vision.
Parties have to grow younger, and young people must have a say — both in committees and in parliaments. The lowering of the voting age to 16 is long overdue.
— Johanna Uekermann, head of the Young Socialists, the Social Democratic Party youth organization
“Otherwise, the future will be decided without us.”
As Europe’s young generation, we have to finally become conscious of our political weight. Electoral participation among younger voters was significantly lower than that of older generations [in the EU referendum]. Democracy only functions if everyone participates.
The EU referendum should also be a warning for us — we must not withdraw from the political process. Otherwise, our future will be decided without us! For many young people, Europe was simply too self-evident. They just didn’t think an exit was possible.
If we want to prevent a return to nationalism, we can’t just stand by and watch.
All optimism was shattered, giving way to #Bregret. But it needs to be equally clear everywhere else in Europe — as well as in the American presidential election — that the final outcomes aren’t set in stone.
Today it’s about leaving the EU; tomorrow it could be about human rights and the protection of minorities. If you take a look at the agendas of right-wing populist parties, you’ll see that both things often go hand in hand. If we want to prevent a return to nationalism, we can’t just stand by and watch. We must resist, and above all, we have to go out and vote against the right.
— Moritz Heuberger, national spokesperson for the Green Youth
“A different kind of politics is possible.”
The question is, why are so many young people turning away from politics?
This is the question that the established political parties can’t answer; they’re caught up in their pro-business positions. Across Europe, there’s massive unemployment among young people, who don’t expect much from politics because they never got much out of it.
A different kind of politics is possible, and can be used to mobilize young people. That’s what Podemos in Spain, Jeremy Corbyn in England, and Syriza in Greece showed us.
— Daniel Kerekes, national spokesperson of the Left Youth Solid
This piece was originally published on HuffPost Germany and has been translated into English and edited for clarity.
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