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Will Young Voters’ Apathy Take Down Europe?

While many around the world have watched the run-up to this week's European Parliament election with bated breath, younger Europeans themselves have apparently been focused on the final episodes of HBO's "Game of Thrones." If they stay home, their own winter will be coming.

PARIS – The need for a strong, unified Europe has never been greater. But enthusiasm for the European project has rarely been so weak, at least among the young. According to a recent poll, about three-quarters of French voters aged 18-24 do not intend to use their democratic privilege in this week’s European Parliament election. Forty percent of that cohort did not even know the election was taking place.

How can one convince the young that their chances of enjoying the peace and prosperity that have benefited their parents and grandparents may hinge on a single election? Today’s youth have only ever known freedom; historical references to Checkpoint Charlie (the most famous of the Cold War border crossings between East and West Berlin) are too distant and abstract to affect them. In the absence of obvious examples of oppression, the only way to explain freedom to them is to describe its absence. The same challenge applies to peace. Yes, it is the absence of war, but what does that mean to someone who has never experienced bombardment?

In the absence of a satisfactory pedagogy of freedom and peace, young people have defaulted to a mixture of indifference and outright rejection of the European project. I recently witnessed this firsthand when speaking at a prestigious French science school on the topic of the election. Many of the students had already voted with their feet: the number of people attending my lecture on the geopolitics of television series was one-tenth what it had been three years ago. Apparently, young people this month were more focused on May 20, the European broadcast date for the series finale of HBO’s Game of Thrones, than on May 23-26, when voting takes place.

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