In March 2020, the world was hit by Covid-19. While this caused dramatic changes to everyone’s lives, young people were hit particularly hard by pandemic-related restrictions. They had to endure disruptions to their education, economic struggles due to job loss, and mental health issues, to name just a few. Meanwhile, the pandemic is still ongoing.

Having a well-educated, economically independent and healthy younger generation is crucial for the future of societies. To openly recognise and address the many sacrifices that younger citizens had to endure, the European Commission declared 2022 as European Youth year. Throughout 2022, the European Union will put a special focus on the needs of young Europeans.

The three pillars’ Engage. Connect. Empower‘, developed for the EU Youth Strategy, lay out the framework for all planned activities. Several opportunities for young people to voice their opinion will be organised and workshops will be held dedicated to empowering young people to play an active part in civil society.

But how do young Europeans evaluate their personal situation? What is their take on the European Union’s current state and future direction? We took a good look at eupinions data from March and June 2022 and summarised some key findings here.

What sticks out is that just 1 in 5 young Europeans (14 to 25 years old) feel like they influence things happening to them. This is a significant decrease of 13 percentage points since July 2018. Even though their opinion on their ability to control things decreased, most young Europeans maintained an optimistic outlook on their future.

In general, 63% of the 14-to-25-year-olds have a positive outlook! Moreover, 7 in 10 young Europeans are confident that 10 years from now, they will have an adequate standard of living. On average, youth are significantly more positive than older age cohorts. Only half of Europeans aged 26 and above are confident about their ability to afford an adequate lifestyle ten years from now.

The confidence young Europeans show regarding their future coincides with their positive perception of globalisation. In June 2022, 7 in 10 young Europeans perceived the interconnected world as an opportunity rather than a threat. This was only true for a little more than half of respondents aged between 56 to 69.

Looking at their positive opinion on globalisation, it may be no surprise that young Europeans are strong proponents of seeing their countries remain members of the EU. If they had to choose, nearly 9 in 10 would vote for their country to remain a part of the EU. This high percentage of young Europeans who would vote to remain has proved to be stable over the last couple of years.

In fact, since the very first eupinions survey in 2015, young people have always been much more “pro-remain” than older age cohorts. For example, in June 2022, only 71 % of 56-to-69-year-olds would have voted for the “remain option”, compared to 88 % of 14-to-25-year-olds.

Younger people may identify more with being part of the EU because they tend to benefit more from its advantages, such as freedom of movement. Cultural diversity, as well as peace and democracy, are other key benefits that young European citizens associate with the EU.

Young Europeans not only seem to see the perks of travelling, living and working in an EU member state but are happy about how the EU functions. For instance, 72 % of young EU citizens are satisfied with the way democracy works in the EU. In September 2019, when the last European Parliament election took place, this satisfaction rate stood at only 65 %.

Comparing values across age cohorts, young Europeans show consistently higher satisfaction rates than older people. In March 2022, the difference between young Europeans and people aged 56-59 was 16 percentage points.

While young Europeans’ overall satisfaction with the European Union’s current state is high and their own personal outlook is optimistic, their expectations for the EU’s future are less positive. Just slightly more than half of European youth think the EU is moving in the right direction. Since June 2021, this is a decline of 11 percentage points.

What do young Europeans want to see the EU focus on in the coming years? They rank securing peace as the most important task for the EU in the future. This result does not come as a surprise, as the survey was conducted right after Russia had started its war in Ukraine.

Stopping climate change was chosen as the second-highest priority. Climate change has become a top issue for younger Europeans since late 2018, when Greta Thunberg became a prominent advocate for the topic.

The European Year of Youth 2022 is a strong signal that the EU recognises the importance of future generations. Especially since younger generations were particularly affected by pandemic measures, it is critical that policy-makers take their needs seriously. Particularly worrying is the decline in young people’s sense of self-efficacy.

The feeling of being able to make one’s voice heard and make a difference is vital to ensuring active participation levels in democratic societies. And active participation is vital to a functioning democracy. Therfore, it is crucial that we engage the young people today who will shape our democracies tomorrow. Any efforts by the EU to strengthen youth participation in civil society and politics are thus more than worthwhile.

About the author

Daria supported the eupinion’s team as an intern from April to June 2022. She is currently pursuing a Master of Public Policy and Social Change at the University of Tübingen. Before that, she completed a B.A. in European Studies at the University of Passau, including a year abroad at the State School of Management in Moscow. Her research interests include civil society, social policy, and comparative public policy.

eupinions is the platform for European public opinion of Bertelsmann Stiftung. Since 2015, eupinions has conducted public opinion surveys of EU citizens on European integration, democracy, globalization, and people’s economic situation on a quarterly basis.

Read more analysis of eupinions’ surveys on our blog

European citizens back help for Ukraine. Meanwhile, their personal prospects are deteriorating

Visit the eupinions’ site here.