More than two thirds of young people across the European Union have a positive view of the bloc and the values that it stands for such as peace, diversity and unity. Only 14% have a negative view of the EU, according to a new survey which asked young people from across the 28 member states what the Union means to them and what the top priorities should be for European leaders over the next five years.
The Erasmus Generation Survey, carried out by ThinkYoung, a Brussels-based youth think tank, and Burson-Marsteller, a leading global public affairs and public relations firm, invited 1,500 young Europeans to respond to a 15-question online questionnaire. The aim is to highlight the values of people aged 18 to 40 and to contribute to the direction of future European policy by calling on those in office to act.
When asked “what is the first word that comes to mind when you think of the European Union”, the responses were generally optimistic. The words most often associated with the EU were ‘peace’, ‘future’, ‘diversity’ and ‘unity’. However, ‘bureaucracy’ also readily comes to mind, signalling that some young people see the EU as an organisation which moves slowly and where important decisions are taken by officials rather than by elected representatives.
Young citizens’ overall positive predisposition is exemplified in our evidence which shows that 67% of all respondents hold a positive point of view of the ‘European project’. This group also believes that it is important for the EU to be united in order to be more effective.
This view of a more united Europe is reflected in the majority of respondents who believe that the EU can compete effectively on the world stage, compared with only 17% who believe their country would be competitive independently.
Peace and stability in Europe and the right of EU citizens to travel to, live or study in another member state were cited as the most significant achievements of the EU by 61% and 83% of respondents respectively.
Consumers benefiting from the free movement of goods across member states closely followed, mentioned by a quarter of respondents, while ensuring that people’s fundamental freedom and rights are respected also ranks among the EU’s most significant achievements.
Two-thirds of respondents believe that Europeans share the same fundamental values, in addition to their distinct set of national values. Responses suggest that the media, politicians and religion are significantly less influential in shaping the value system than family and friends.
Unsurprisingly, growth and jobs are considered the most important issues the EU should prioritise by 59% of respondents, followed by climate change and the environment, and finally the fight against corruption. Tackling corruption is seen as a key initiative to promote entrepreneurship among young people (17%), along with reducing bureaucracy (25%) and investing in education and skills training (29%).
82% of respondents reported that they are interested in Europeans politics, while 65% believe their vote makes a difference. Despite this, most young people believe that those aged between 35 and 60 are the most influential in politics.
Increasing the participation of young people in European democratic life is a Treaty requirement and a major challenge for the EU institutions, however more needs to be done to address the lack of adequate election information and to convince young people to take part.
The survey indicates that such encouragement needs to be on a large-scale and to reach young people from different angles. For example, 35% of respondents were in favour of introducing compulsory lessons in schools to educate students on the values, history, functioning and responsibilities of the EU and its decision-making process, and allowing citizens to vote online.
“The Erasmus Generation Survey is an important insight into the views of European youth and offers clear indications of the policy direction that young people want Europe to take over the next five years,” said Andrea Gerosa of the Think Young think-tank.
“The Erasmus generation is the future of Europe and we believe that decision-makers should therefore listen to their views very carefully. They should also do more to encourage young people to play their part in shaping the future direction of the European Union by participating fully in the democratic process and debate,” said Burson-Marsteller Brussels CEO and EMEA Public Affairs Practice Leader Karen Massin.
The research project was conducted as part of Europe Decides, an initiative launched by Burson-Marsteller Brussels to follow political developments in the European Union, institutional changes and their impact on different policy areas.