Communication is the challenge, social media are the answer

YEYS participants may be teenagers, but their view on EU affairs does not differ much from that of adults: they care as much as their parents do about the growth of populism, the threats to democracy and recent developments potentially endangering the EU project, such as Brexit. They have also understood that the EU must recover citizens' trust by communicating better, and they have even found a potential solution in social media as a key tool to enhance transparency, awareness and participation in EU affairs.

"In my country there is a lack of information about the upcoming European elections. I personally didn't know anything before coming to Brussels," said one Austrian student, adding: "When politicians are debating, they speak a language that young people don't understand." This communication issue was also mentioned by other participants, who placed their trust mainly in social media to reach young voters: "There is barely any interaction between EU social media and their followers; the content is actually very boring!" said one German student.

The risk that this lack of communication can lead to a rise in populism of various kinds and threaten democracy and EU values was also raised during the debates: "Those who fall asleep in a democracy might wake up in a dictatorship one day," said a member of one of the groups. Many other participants spoke of EU values as the main link shared by young people from all Member States: "We come from different countries, but we are all fighting together for the same values," said one young girl, who was immediately backed up by a fellow participant who declared that "Europe is about being united in diversity and trying to preserve peace and democracy."

All these concerns were reflected in the ten proposals the students drafted, which all included the need for clarity and transparency in EU communication policy. And, in the view of these young people, the solution is literally in our hands in the form of mobile phones: social media are the answer, as they enable a direct link between politicians and citizens. As one of the students said: "Politicians think young people don't care about politics, but that is not true. But if they want young people to participate, they have to learn how to use social media wisely!" (dgf)