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Young, mobile citizens of the European Union live, work and study in EU host countries, but are frequently unaware of their democratic rights and options for active political involvement. They are part of the local population, yet remain ignored by politics and society.

Group of people using mobile devices

Credit: GettyImages/courtneyk

These are the key findings of the EU’s two-year project on the “Empowerment of European Mobile Youth in the EU”. Armed with a series of recommendations, the aim is now to counter the trend of low voter turnout in EU and local elections, as well as the lack of information about the fundamental rights of the European Union, and to encourage European Mobile Youth (EMY) to become politically active.

EMY is a co-financed EU project designed to inform young and mobile Europeans aged between 16 and 29 about their rights as citizens of the European Union, and to encourage them to make better use of their democratic rights and options for political involvement in a unified Europe. “European mobile youth” are young people who live, work or study in another EU member state – the so-called host country. Over a period of two years, EMYs in Estonia and Austria, the two participating project countries, were questioned. The aim was to discover what they knew about their options for political participation in their host country, and their expectations of the European Union with respect to local political involvement.

The results of the EU co-financed project will be presented at the closing conference, which is being held online on 21 January 2021. During the project, interviews and surveys were conducted with focus groups, stakeholders and decision makers from the two project countries. After analysing this input, the EMY project team has drawn up a series of recommendations for national and EU politicians. They have also established a networked community of young mobile Europeans, and developed the “emyConnect” online tool which is intended to encourage and facilitate democratic engagement among young EU citizens. One focus of the EMY closing conference will be to look beyond the end of the project and explore how mobility within the EU will develop following COVID-19, with particular emphasis on strengthening the fundamental rights of EU citizens so that mobile citizens can make their voices more clearly heard in future.

The event is open to stakeholders, the EMY network and the interested public. Participation is free. Registration is online at https://europeanmobileyouth.eu/registration. The conference programme is available at: https://europeanmobileyouth.eu/conference.

The results and details of the surveys and focus groups:

Both before and after the European Parliamentary elections in May 2019, mobile youth in their host countries Austria and Estonia were asked about their interest in politics, their awareness of their democratic rights, and their democratic participation. The project examined whether the youth were exercising their right to vote. Where this was not the case, they were specifically asked what was stopping them from taking part in the democratic processes of their EU host country.

The key findings are summarised according to category:

•    Political apathy
The working hypothesis that young EU citizens, especially mobile youth, are not interested in politics and therefore do not vote has been disproved. The post-election survey showed an above average level of participation (71%) in the 2019 European elections, with the majority (77%) having followed the election campaigns for the European Parliament. However, what should not be underestimated is the level of scepticism expressed by over half of those surveyed about the effectiveness of democratic participation.

•    Home-country bias
The project highlighted a clear political preference for the participant’s home country. The survey undertaken prior to the European Parliamentary elections showed that the majority of those questioned would vote for a candidate or party in their home country. The post-election surveys revealed that a third of those questioned were not even aware that they  also had a right to vote in the elections in their host country. This lack of awareness of their democratic rights as EU citizens among those surveyed was particularly pronounced with respect to local elections: almost half of those questioned were not aware of their right to vote in the local elections in their host country.

•    Information and communication deficit
During the project, communication deficits were repeatedly identified among the EMYs, both in terms of a lack of knowledge about the rights associated with EU citizenship, or of the political and social situation in the host country. Information deficits remain a hurdle to democratic participation.

Language barriers remain a significant and major impediment to communication. A general understanding was reached that important information should be made available in multi-lingual formats.

•    Administrative barriers
EMYs are still facing bureaucratic barriers: a whole 15% of those surveyed stated that they had wanted to participate in the EU elections but had not been informed in time, or that there had been problems with registration. The three key barriers were the member states’ criteria for the right to vote and to stand for election, the protracted administrative processes associated with registering to vote, and the voting procedure itself.

A more comprehensive and more detailed overview of the work and results of the project can be found on the EMY website (https://europeanmobileyouth.eu/outcomes).

The project partners

The AIT Austrian Institute of Technology is Austria's largest research and technology organisation. Among the European research institutes, AIT is a specialist in the key infrastructure issues of the future. In the context of comprehensive and global networking and digitalisation the Center for Digital Safety & Security is developing modern information and communication technologies (ICT) and systems in order to establish secure and reliable critical infrastructure. AIT acts as the consortium leader in this project.

The e-Governance Academy (eGA) is a non-governmental, non-partisan organisation based in Estonia, which was established to create and transfer knowledge of e-governance, e-democracy and the development of a civil society. Founded in 2002, eGA is a joint initiative of the Government of Estonia, the Open Society Institute (OSI) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The Centre of Economics and Public Administration (CEPA) is a network of internationally recognised experts in the fields of public administration, political science, business and economics, finance and information technology. CEPA was launched in the UK in 2015 with the aim to explore the complex interactions between science, policy and the civil society. The Vienna branch of CEPA was established in 2019.

Politikos aims to establish an efficient method of communication between political decision-makers and the civil society. This enables the development of innovative policy-making ideas and approaches, offering everyone  the opportunity to engage in and actively shape political decision-making processes.

Project data

Project: Empowerment of mobile youth in the EU (EMY)
Project ID: REC-RCIT-CITI-AG-2018
Participating countries: Estonia, Austria, project start: 1/2/2019, project end: 31/1/2021
Webpage: https://europeanmobileyouth.eu
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/europeanmobileyouth
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/europeanmobileyouth

This project is funded by the European Union’s Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme (2014-2020).


Mag. (FH) Michael W. Mürling
Marketing and Communications
AIT Austrian Institute of Technology
Center for Digital Safety & Security
T +43 664 235 17 47
michael.muerling(at)ait.ac.at I www.ait.ac.at

Mag. Michael H. Hlava
Head of Corporate and Marketing Communications
AIT Austrian Institute of Technology
T +43 (0)50550-4014
michael.hlava(at)ait.ac.at I www.ait.ac.at