Europe's Silent, Angry Youth

Reactionary forces surged in the European parliamentary elections because young European immigrants were ignored.

Dana Rothschild
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Poster of the right-wing Swiss People's Party which shows a woman wearing a burqa against a background of a Swiss flag.
Poster of the right-wing Swiss People's Party which shows a woman wearing a burqa against a background of a Swiss flag. Credit: AP
Dana Rothschild

The incredulous responses to the results of the European parliamentary elections show mostly the disconnect between the political institutions on the continent and the community they pretend to represent. It is also a generation gap. Actually, there has been no significant rightward shift in public opinion. What has happened is that the comprehensive, system-wide disregard of Europe’s Generation Y, which is suffering a great deal, has risen to the surface.

Much has already been written about the existential despair and depressing future Generation Y faces, with record-high unemployment and a bleak financial horizon in store for it, including recession, poverty and cutbacks in government spending. But not much has been said about the other side of the inflationary coin: the immigration taking place within Europe. At issue, are tens of millions of educated young people in their 20s and 30s who have been pushed out of their home countries by market forces and the economic and demographic conditions there. This is a middle class that is young, educated, open-eyed and mostly politically detached and disconnected.

The young people who have remained in their countries of origin have cast protest votes en masse — protest votes for parties ranging from the pirates (which focus on Internet and individual rights) to the Eurosceptics (which call for leaving the European Union and a return to old-time nationalism) to those on the far-right — the Nazis, the neo-Nazis and the xenophobes. But the voices of the young European immigrants, who could be roughly categorized as left to center-left, are barely heard. Why? Well, the European nation-states' mechanisms did everything they could to make it difficult for such immigrants to vote.

In Berlin, where hundreds of thousands of European citizens live, the voting registration instructions for foreigners included a two-stage bureaucratic procedure that was done in pure German only. Preferring to save themselves the trouble, many foreigners registered online to vote in their home countries only to find out that after five years in Germany, the political system in France, Poland or Greece was foreign to them. So they thought: Why bother? After all, the detachment and hardship of a young Briton in Germany could find no expression in the existing voting mechanisms anyway.

Voter turnout statistics can be misleading. The question is who could actually vote. In the United Kingdom, where the isolationist party won, voter turnout was only 36 percent. Who, then, are these isolationists? Where are the millions of French, Polish and Spanish people who live in the U.K. and could have voted?

Instead of taking in those tens of millions of immigrants and helping them deal with the notorious European bureaucracy, existing political forces simply ignored their existence. This disregard cost them millions of votes and left the field largely to the reactionary forces and the apathetic flutters of rebellion.

Dana Rothschild is a researcher of Jewish theology and political activist in Berlin.

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