They’re the ones who said "no" the loudest. Young Greeks rose together to reject the proposals of Athens’ creditors during Sunday's referendum. According to polling data, more than 85 percent of youths checked “oxi” on their ballots. This is 20 points higher than the total final tally, and more than 40 points higher than the elderly vote.
Young voters, more than any other part of the Greek population, definitively affirmed they do not want the policy of austerity to continue in their country. The most obvious consequence is the overwhelming unemployment affecting their age group. By the end of 2014, 52.4 percent of younger voters were unemployed in Greece, a figure surpassed only by Spain (53.2 percent).
Myrto, a 28-year-old living in Greece, explained to HuffPost France in January how she had to move in with her parents when faced with the loss of her job.
For Laura Slimani, the president of the Young French Socialists and the head of the European Young Socialists movement, the resounding “No” vote by young Greeks on Sunday is very revealing.
“If the only possibility offered to our generation is to become a sacrificed generation with an enormous unemployment rate, the risk of seeing young Europeans turn away violently and decisively from the European project is very great. With this vote, they’re showing a rejection of Europe, as it exists today,” Slimani warned in an interview with HuffPost France, insisting that “for so many, Europe only means more disasters, higher unemployment and a lower quality of life.”
Laura Slimani, president of the Young French Socialists and the head of the European Young Socialists movement.
As seen from France, the results from the Greek referendum are not surprising. Is the sentiment the same elsewhere in Europe? We asked our colleagues from other European publications. Their responses might surprise you.
Within France, those 18 to 24 have a history of showing their distrust in regard to the European construction. The latest example: Their political abstention during the Spring 2014 European elections. While the participation rate reached 42 percent for the whole population, it was only 26 percent for voters ages 18 to 24, according to the French Institute of Public Opinion. Turnout for those 35 and older was reported at 47 percent.
“Their view isn’t darker, it’s more lucid," noted Slimani. "This is why a total of 70 percent didn’t vote in the European elections. They think their vote won’t change much, given the many privileges accorded to institutions they deem illegitimate. It’s the same with domestic politics."
For Jean-Paul Hagon, a researcher at IRIS and the author of a memorandum on European disillusion, the "Euroskepticism" of European youth has grown enormously over the last 10 years.
“In France, 61 percent believed Europe was a source of hope in 2003, versus 31 percent 10 years later. There are twice as many ‘Euroskeptic’ youths as there are people ages 65 and older,” Hagon wrote weeks before the latest European vote. This feeling is shared on the other side of the Alps. “Young people in Italy are proof of a growing skepticism towards European institutions, a growing mistrust against the Euro, but also against other countries in the Union,” notes the Toniolo Institute. Fifty-eight percent of young people interviewed for a major survey affirmed that the European Union is fundamentally a failure, and only 32 percent maintain a good image of the shared currency.
In Spain, the exact opposite is occurring. “Of course the crisis caused a decline in the interest and confidence of the younger generation towards European institutions, but they remain the most optimistic and convinced of the advantages from belonging to the European Union,” said sociologist José Pablo Ferrandis of the polling institute Metroscopia. For the 30th anniversary of Spain’s membership to the EU, Metroscopia conducted a survey that found that 73 percent of those ages 18 to 30 believe participating in the EU has been beneficial. Meanwhile, 70 percent of 35- to 54-year-olds agreed, while only 68 percent of those over 55 agreed.
The fact remains that when young Europeans are asked if things are going in the right direction, fewer than one-third of them respond “yes.”
“We’re a generation that hasn’t experienced the great conflicts of the European interior: neither the Second World War, nor the Cold War," Slimani said. "So for us, a united Europe is a fact; it’s taken for granted by my generation. The project for peace, even if important, is not enough. It’s like the Erasmus exchange programs. We’ve reached a point where we can no longer expect Europe to draw its legitimacy from a number of programs. It must do so from its democratic character."
Before eventual advancements in the economic sphere, Slimani wants to believe we can at least learn something from this vote. “What Tsipras has succeeded in for the moment has been showing that a political desire can pay off. What’s essential, then, is a political desire to come up with a different project.” This article originally appeared on HuffPost France and was translated into English.