Mon, May 24, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Young candidates hoping to stir up European elections

REUTERS , BRUSSELS

If they can bother to get off the couch, 60 million young people from a reunited Europe are eligible to vote in next month's elections for the European Parliament.

Traditionally apolitical if not apathetic, generation X rarely registers in the debate.

Even less so when it comes to European politics.

Briton Alison Goldsworthy, a 21-year-old student, bucks the trend and is standing as a candidate.

"It [European Parliament] is so irrelevant to people," she said at a cross-party event to launch young candidates under 35. She said had never even received a letter from her local member of the European parliament (MEP).

Goldsworthy wants to inject some youthful verve into the EU assembly in contrast to the old men in suits.

Standing for the pro-EU centrist Liberal Democrat party, she faces a battle to get elected in Britain, where voter turnout in the 1999 European Parliament elections hit an historic low of just 24 percent, the lowest in the EU.

Do not expect a flood of e-mails or text messages to get the technology savvy young wired up to vote from June 10 to June 13.

Though Britain conducted the first major electronic-voting experiment in local government polls last year, it has been shelved for this election.

Stephen Coleman, visiting professor in e-Democracy at Oxford University, said e-mail, text messages and Web casts would be useful tools for European deputies to target citizens because constituencies are normally very large and diverse.

But communication had to be interactive so people could respond to wannabe politicians, he said, adding that technology was no quick fix to increasing turnout.

British candidates have already missed the boat in hitting the information highway to sell themselves, Coleman said.

"They should have been thinking of it six months ago," he said, adding that collective hand-wringing about low turnout, especially among young people, would be too late.

The expanded EU, now a 25-nation bloc with 450 million citizens, will send 732 deputies to the European Parliament in the first pan-Europe ballot since enlargement on May 1.

As the only directly elected EU body, the legislature is the voice of Europe's citizens. Though a minnow in foreign policy, it has led the way in pushing tough environmental and food safety legislation and transparent financial regulation.

Polish candidate Ania Skrzypek, 24, is eager to be part of the first wave of deputies from the 10 predominantly Central and Eastern Europeans countries who are now part of the club.

She wants to change the negative stereotype of her country -- the largest of the new member states -- as a political bruiser, seeking to dominate proceedings from day one.

"The first task is to make people go and vote," said Skrzypek, a Socialist, adding that her main aim was to reduce youth unemployment of 42 percent in her homeland.

Fellow newcomer Jan Hamacek, 26, a Socialist candidate from the Czech Republic, highlighted the high rates of joblessness among young educated people.

But he said telling university graduates about the benefits of EU membership was like preaching to the converted -- the campaign had to be widened to young people working in factories.

"They think the EU will take their jobs away," he said. "We have to tell them they can benefit from it."

For French Green candidate, Maud Lelievre, 28, the issues are more practical.

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