What do Europe’s millennials think about the EU and the euro? What do they know about the EU? And what changes would they like to see to the common currency? Anna auf dem Brinke, Katharina Gnath and Philipp Ständer analyse public opinion data for all 28 EU member states and draw lessons for policymakers.
The Brexit referendum in June 2016 demonstrated that young voters are significantly more pro-European than voters from older generations. While the difference between the old and the young in support for the European Union holds across all 28 member states, our analysis also reveals that the millennials’ investment in Europe stands on thin ice for at least three reasons:
Pro-European sentiments among Europe’s young generation will not easily translate into votes. Experience shows that the mobilization of young voters is difficult. Many of the young millennials who tend to be the most supportive of the EU are even below voting age. Furthermore, our analysis has shown that very young people (14-25 years old) do not know a great deal about the EU. Previous research suggests that this will make them less likely to vote in European Parliament elections. Support for the EU and the euro will thus remain rather tenuous among Europe’s young generation.
Old millennials, who have just started their careers, are disenchanted with the euro. Their support for the euro is considerably lower than for the EU: in the periphery, only 49 % want to keep the euro, 12 %-points less than the support for EU membership. And within the EU as a whole pro-European attitudes are less noticeable among those between 26 and 35 than among their younger peers. Old millennials are disappointed because they have experienced the recession and the ensuing record-breaking youth unemployment. A return to growth should be a top priority, and this should go hand in hand with regaining the support of those who felt marginalized after the last crisis. As long as policymakers in the euro area do not deliver on the promise of growth and jobs, they are jeopardising the support of Europe’s millennials for the common currency.
Millennials are unlikely to drive reforms. On average young people in Europe seem to be much less worried about economic difficulties than their older peers. Young voters are on the whole not against economic reforms, but they believe that there is much less urgency than older generations. This should be taken as a wake-up call because we know that the euro needs reform to be a strong and stable currency in the long run. Policymakers will need to put more effort into explaining how different options to stabilize the common currency could improve citizens’ welfare.
For these reasons young Europeans may not in fact be a strong and reliable base that policymakers might have hoped for. Encouraging millennials to learn more about the EU and to acknowledge the need for economic adjustment will call for a great effort in terms of targeting and communication. Yet if policymakers present convincing and consistent plansfor the future of the Eurozone and the EU, they will be able to tap into the strong pro-European sentiment of the millennials.
This eupinions Policy Brief 2016/01 is part of larger research project between the Bertelsmann Stiftung and the Jacques Delors Institut – Berlin. To find out more about our work on the future of the euro area, please visit our website at www.strengthentheeuro.eu.