Europe is trembling. The Greeks have taken a stance against the rescue policy of their creditors. In truth, however, the Greek youth have voted against Europe, or put differently, against the European idea as they know it today.
Because, for many of them, Europe no longer stands for promise but danger; it no longer means new beginnings, but insecurity. In many southern European countries, the younger people are part of the first generation to have it worse than their parents.
They no longer want to put up with it: 85 percent of the 18- to 24-year-olds have voted against the creditors’ suggestions for Greek reform and austerity. And, in turn, for a little bit of dignity in this messy situation.
It Is A Statement That Nobody In Europe Should Ignore
Young Greeks are not the only ones losing their faith in the European idea. College graduates and students from other countries are starting to feel the same way.
Another reason for concern: The French youth are nearly as euro-skeptical as those over the age of 65.
A similar situation is evident in Italy: Young Italians don’t see Europe as a future project anymore either. According to a poll by the Istituto Toniolo, more than every other young Italian has given up on Europe: 58 percent of them state that the EU is a failed experiment.
Only 32 percent of young Italians still feel positively about the euro. And only 35 percent of young Italians regard Germany’s role in Europe as positive. They are more likely to feel attracted to France and Spain. The Spanish Have A Positive Outlook On Europe
All these numbers reveal something stark: If Europe breaks apart, it won’t be in Brussels, but in the student dorms throughout the continent. Because it’s members of the younger generations who will shape and will have to support the politics of the future.
Yet surprisingly there is no north-south divide in the identity crisis seen in younger Europeans. This is obvious in Spain, a country that has already achieved a lot, working its way out of a euro-crisis.
Although Spanish youth have lost interest in the EU institutions amidst the crisis, they still rate their country’s EU membership as positive, according to sociologist José Pablo Ferrandis, of Spanish polling agency Metroscopia.
In a Europe-wide comparison, the Spanish have a similar trust in the EU as the Germans -- who rank at the top throughout Europe.
According to Metroscopia, 54 percent of Spaniards, ages 18-30, believe that being a member of the EU has helped their country overcome the crisis faster.
This makes for a surprising axis of Europe’s supporters -- between Spain and the biggest country of the Eurozone, of all places. “There is hardly any other country in which young people are so open to the European idea than in Germany,” says one of the most famous youth researchers, Klaus Hurrelmann of the Hertie School of Governance.
They have more trust in the EU than younger people in other countries “and they see considerably more opportunities than risks in the EU,” says Hurrelmann. “There is no other place in Europe, where people are as positive towards the Euro than in Germany.” These numbers are reflected in the Eurobarometer of the EU commission.
As critically as youth from Italy and Greece may look towards Germany, the Germans still remain unshaken: “Of course, they see themselves as Germans,” says Hurrelmann. “But in a similar way, they see themselves as Europeans -- even more so than their parents.”
This area of tension -- between the skeptical Italians, French and Greeks, and the relatively europhoric Spaniards and Germans -- is the real problem in Europe. Because the young people on the continent have lost their collective vision.
In the end, it works like a family: If the members don’t believe in sitting down for dinner together and discussing their issues, and everybody is barricading themselves in their own rooms instead, it will break apart.
Now, you could argue that these young skeptics might change their minds eventually. However, if you grow up with the certainty that Europe is doing more harm than good, you aren’t very likely to change your opinion later. You will vote against Europe at the ballot -- regardless of the political price that you will have to pay.
How Can Europe Still Be Saved?
We finally need to start talking more about ideas -- and less about failures. Instead of bank bailouts at the center of EU politics, the focus should be on future programs that young people in Europe will benefit from quickly.
Spain is living proof that an economic recovery, no matter how small, can restore faith in Europe.
A Marshall Plan for southern Europe, which focuses on supporting young, sustainable or social companies, has been discussed repeatedly. Why not?
We have to sit down together and put these suggestions forward again! Time presses. Every time we hesitate, it costs Europe more credit -- from its youth. The ones, we must remind ourselves, who are Europe’s future.
Alexandre Boudet contributed reporting from Paris, Giulia Belardelli from Rome and Gloria Pina from Madrid.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost Germany and was translated into English.