25 Apr 2014

Why do young Brits feel disengaged from the EU?

Ahead of the European elections in May, a new survey reveals that young people in the UK feel disengaged from the European Union. But why are we so uninterested?

The survey, by Anglia Ruskin University and the Euclid Network, discovered that 81 per cent of young people felt disengaged because they do not know enough about the EU, how it works and, above all, how it affects their everyday lives.

Only 7 per cent admit that they know “a lot” about the EU and just 12 per cent feel that the EU impacts on their lives “very much”.

A third of the respondents (34 per cent) say they know the difference between the European parliament, European Commission, European Council and the European Union. However, 72 per cent see themselves as European citizens.


Dr Darren Sharpe of Anglia Ruskin University, one of the report’s authors, said: “Young people’s concerns and attitudes are not that dissimilar to older generations on issues of border control and the free movement of people in Europe, which can create a strain on public services. But they also strongly identify as being European and are broadly optimistic about the future of the EU.

“They see the EU as a space for job opportunities and a collective voice for good in the world to tackle issues such as sustainability and environmental problems. They also see the value of creating an EU army, learning a second language, and improvements in health and social welfare for all European member states.

Young people are not getting information about Europe from their peer group or parents. Dr Darren Sharpe, Anglia Ruskin University

“However, currently young people are not getting information about Europe from their peer group or parents, which leaves a crucial role for education and the media to play in informing and empowering young people in how to have a say in the future of the EU.”

The majority of respondents (82 per cent) think that politics is not covered enough in the British school curriculum, and 88 per cent believe that young people in the UK should be taught about European politics.

Channel 4 News spoke to thee young people and asked them why young Brits feel disengaged with Europe?

Kemoy Walker, 23, a youth worker from Manchester, told Channel 4 News: "I'm still learning. I haven't been given the chance to learn how the EU affects us.

"Young people are just not interested in politics, they switch off easily, it doesn’t engage with them."

Alanna Serrette, 17, a college student also from Manchester told Channel 4 News: "Young people don’t really know what the European Union can do for them."

Martyna Napierska, 17, a student from Edinburgh, added: "The European Union is so isolated, so young people feel alienated. It's important teachers give young people the opportunity learn about Europe."

The survey also revealed that the majority of young people access and hear about the EU through the media, but only 42 per cent are aware that the next European parliament election is taking place this year.

Young people believe the EU should focus on securing peace in the Ukraine and Syria, youth unemployment, economic problems and human rights-based issues, including people trafficking. They also mentioned the need to address immigration, climate change and global warming.

European heritage

Robert Oulds, 38, from the Eurosceptic Bruges Group, told Channel 4 News: “Young people feel part of the European heritage but not the European Union. The world has changed since the European Union was formed.

“Many young people now reach the wider world through travelling and the internet. Europe is not the future.”

Stephen Booth, 29, from the independent Open Europe think tank, told Channel 4 News: “While it is clear that many people feel they do not know enough about the EU, this is as much a symptom as a cause of the EU’s ‘democratic deficit’. The EU institutions are powerful but remote and people feel their voice counts for little, so they are entitled to wonder what the point of voting for their MEP is.”

Young people feel part of the European heritage but not the European Union Robert Oulds, Bruges Group

“Better knowledge of the EU might help but, ultimately, politics is local. The EU should concentrate on doing the things that individual countries can’t do and leave the rest to national parliaments – this means decisions can be taken closer to voters by people who are properly accountable for their decisions.”

The survey, which captured the views of 500 young people aged 12-24 via workshops and a British Youth Council online questionnaire, was carried out between January and March 2014.

Are you aged between 16-34 and think Europe matters or feel disengaged from the European Union @Channel4News with #EuroBritsAbroad