The 2015 EU Youth Report identified young people with migrant background as «1 of the 2 groups most at risk of poverty and social exclusion», making it harder for them to succeed in the integration process and take an active part in community life. Therefore, this article, the third of the series, aims to consider the relation between democratic participation and people with a migrant history to point out relevant aspects intertwined with the political involvement of young Europeans.
In this regard, the OECD elaborated two indicators that, even though incomplete, show the percentage of foreign-born and non-EU-born citizens who voted in the most recent national parliamentary elections compared to native-born people up to 2017. Even if only 23 EU countries shared their data (UK included at the time), at EU level foreign-born citizens who voted in a national election in 2017 were 73.7%, -5 percentage points compared to the native-born population. As far as non-EU-born people are concerned, 72.8% of them voted in the latest national elections, only 3 pp less than EU-born citizens. Overall, the number of non-native-born voters had been slightly decreasing (-0.2 pp) between 2006 and 2017. These figures seem to prove that the gap between non-native-born and native-born voters is not significantly wide when it comes to take part in the voting. However, it is important to underline that those data are based on incomplete and not updated estimates and show substantial differences among EU Member States. For instance, in 2017 the number of foreign-born voters decreased by 15.4 pp in Greece, whereas it increased by 10.9 pp in Spain.
In addition, those percentages are related to national parliamentary elections only, which makes it impossible to draw assumptions about voting trends of citizens with a migrant background at European elections. As a consequence, the goal of increasing youth democratic participation should include a focus on citizens with a migrant past to narrow the gap in the countries where it is wider, boost social inclusion, and make it easier for them to participate in EU’s democratic life.
Young European voices
As anticipated in the previous articles, four interviews were conducted to include real and personal insights of young Europeans (under 30) with a migrant background about democratic participation and active citizenship. This set of interviews does not claim any statistical significance, but it simply aims to offer food for thought about young migrants’ political involvement. The respondents, who will be cited as A, B, C and D, were asked seven questions about four main topics: personal background, level of political and civic participation, priority issues in politics and society, citizenship and identity.
Respondent A lives in Czechia but has both Bosnian and Croatian citizenship. He declared to have voted various times at local and national elections, but he never voted at European elections. The main reason behind that is that he was often abroad to study or work at elections time, and it was too difficult for him to come back and vote. He describes himself as socially and politically active, as he has been member of various civil associations, especially in Croatia, but he would like to be even more involved. He finds it hard to integrate in Czech society, mainly due to the linguistic barrier. However, he feels more as a European citizen than either Croatian or Bosnian due to the time spent living abroad. The current issues that involve him most are economy and war in Ukraine, as well as the environmental emergency.
Respondent B now lives in Czechia but has a Polish citizenship. She is the only one who does not consider herself “with a migrant background”, because her family never moved from Poland. Therefore, she feels herself as Polish only. She states to have voted in most of Polish national elections and some local ones, but she never took part in European elections. She does not consider herself politically or socially active and she has never joined any kind of association. She claimed to be not interested in taking part into EU elections, mainly because she is not correctly informed. Her concept of Europe is mostly abstract as she perceives the EU as a distant organization. This is the reason why she believes the EU citizenship to be «mostly irrelevant» or at least not well developed, yet. She is mainly interested in economic issues and in the effects of the war in Ukraine towards Poland.
Respondent C has lived in Italy for more than 25 years but has Albanian origins. Currently working at the European Parliament in Brussels, she now believes to be more politically and socially active. She has recently joined an Italian political party and she has always been part of some kind of civic or political association. However, she has rarely voted in the past and she has never taken part into European elections. She only voted at 2018 Italian national elections. She declares that the reasons for the non-voting were the fact that she was given the Italian citizenship late and the lack of real political and social inclusion of young migrants in Italy. She explains that she often feels herself as a «foreigner» both in Italy and Albania, due to her «mixed culture and double identity», even though she thinks of herself as an Italian. This feeling of social exclusion was the main reason that did not allow her to be involved in politics in the past, as she did not feel «represented or seen» by the Italian political establishment. The issues that move her most are the social ones, like fighting poverty, boosting the energetic transition and increasing investments in education. She pictures herself more as an Italian citizen, but she started to feel part of the European community while working in Brussels. She thinks she could feel completely European only if Albania was officially part of the EU.
Respondent D was born and lives in Italy, but she has migrant background since her parents came there from Morocco. She inherited the Italian citizenship at birth from them and that is why she has always voted at Italian elections. She has never voted at European elections, but she claims she will definitely vote in 2024, because she is now more conscious about the EU’s role and more informed and politically active than in the past. Indeed, she is part of an Italian political party and she is also involved in associationism. She is particularly concerned about social issues, especially, being a teacher, about integration in educational contexts. She believes that procedures to obtain the Italian citizenship should be simplified, as citizenship is the first step to actively participate in society and politics. In addition, she stresses the inequalities emerged while dealing with Ukrainian refugees compared to other migrants in the past. She often feels herself as a «foreigner» both in Italy and Morocco, due to her mixed culture and double identity, even though she grew up in Italy and she pictures herself first as an Italian. The lack of social inclusion was the main reason that prevented her from being more involved in politics in the past. She is recognised more as an Italian when she is abroad. She defines herself as a «global citizen» and she thinks that citizenships are «simply paper documents». She believes that to give the European citizenship a primary role, member States should revise rules and criteria concerning citizenships.
Trends and conclusion
Overall, the interviews show that the concept of “migration” is seen by respondents more as a phenomenon which starts outside the EU than a matter of home affairs, too. While the most mentioned issue is the role of citizenship, as all respondents agreed that citizenship is the first necessary step to feel recognised by society and to actively participate in politics. However, citizenship is not enough if countries do not guarantee real social inclusion of young migrants. As far as the voting is concerned, none of them has ever voted in European elections due to lack of interest, social and political barriers and lack of information. This proves that the communication of the EU’s role and significance in people’s lives conveyed by Member States and the EU itself is not sufficient and it should be improved. On the other hand, 3 out of 4 respondents are socially and politically active as they are or have been part of various associations or parties. Finally, among the most pressing issues to address, highlighted by respondents, there are: reducing social exclusion, combating climate change, addressing the consequences of war in Ukraine and reduce poverty and inequalities.
To conclude, this article and the whole series dedicated to the path ahead the 2024 European Parliament elections showed that there are many ways of improving democratic and political participation, especially among young people and young migrants. There is still time and space within the EU to create a more integrated and participated community. This is the reason why, a fourth closing article, coming in a fortnight, will be dedicated to current and future strategies which the EU aims to implement to foster social inclusion and youth empowerment.