For young Europeans, war in Ukraine signals a change of era

A survey of 16-26 year olds from seven countries shows that 68% of them are willing to provide humanitarian aid, such as hosting refugees. Despite the conflict, climate change is still the biggest fear. It’s summer vacation in Gliwice, Poland. Aleksandra Piasecka, Lena Kubisa and Kinga Zuwała went to Gdansk on the Baltic Sea. The three friends planned the trip half a year ago, that is, before the start of the war in neighboring Ukraine – a fact that also changed their lives.

More than 60% of young Europeans see the war in Ukraine as the beginning of a new era

More than 60% of young Europeans see the war in Ukraine as the beginning of a new era

Photo: DW / Deutsche Welle

“Every now and then I think about the war and I have something like a panic attack because it’s so close. I have a feeling this fear won’t go away until the war is over,” says Kinga.

A Ukrainian family now lives next door to Lena. There are seven people, sometimes eight, in the apartment next to hers, which belonged to her grandmother and luckily was empty.

“Of course, it’s a big change. But obviously it’s a much bigger change for the family. [ucraniana]”, says Lena.

Aleksandra, Kinga and Lena are around 18 years old and will graduate from school next year. And they are not alone in their feelings about the war.

More than 60% of young Europeans see the war in Ukraine as a new era. This is what the Junges Europa 2022 study by the TUI Foundation shows. The YouGov opinion poll surveyed more than 6,200 young people aged 16 to 26 in Germany, the UK, France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Poland in April 2022.

Young people, especially in Poland, Germany and Greece, see Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a personal threat. Also, like Lena’s family, they are very willing to provide humanitarian assistance, such as hosting refugees (68%).

“Before the war, the elders always said it was all easy for us teenagers. But now I have the feeling that they feel more empathy for us, because we have to learn in such difficult circumstances, with so many stress factors” , says Lena.

After all, the war in Ukraine is not the only crisis at issue. The study shows that the biggest threat to young Europeans remains climate change.

Climate change: main fear

“Climate change affects all of us as human beings. So I hope we all wake up and really start doing more,” says Javier Fabra Rodriguez, 25, who lives in Cádiz, Spain. He finished a master’s degree and wants to teach history.

Rodriguez describes himself as an optimistic person. “Actually, I always find something positive.” He sees himself first as a European and then as a Spaniard. The young man loves to travel around Europe and has friends from several countries.

When you sit at the bar with them to talk now, the main issue at hand is the fear of not getting a job. In addition, the climate crisis is increasingly debated.

“We’ve always blamed big business for not caring as much about the climate. And the government should do more. But at some point, we agreed that we could all do more for the climate, too, for example, by not eating meat, recycling and walking. less by car”, he says.

Indeed, as for Rodriguez, climate change is the issue why young Europeans are most willing to limit their own standard of living.

More than 60% of them would be willing to do this, and 69% see a great individual responsibility in the fight against climate change. In addition, 58% expect governments to impose more taxes, rules and bans to address the issue.

The role of the EU

More than half of respondents think that European Union (EU) countries should prioritize the fight against climate change over energy independence. Southern European states, in particular, believe that this is a responsibility of the entire EU, not just national governments.

“For me, Europe is a place where I can develop my personality and make my dreams come true. And where I have rights, this is important for me, also because of my origin”, says Daniela Capuccio.

She is currently back in her hometown in northwest Italy. She is half Colombian and therefore knows the rights and freedoms that a European passport offers.

The 25-year-old has just graduated from law school, and works and prepares for the entrance exam to become a lawyer. For many years she has given seminars in schools to educate young people about the EU institutions.

For the majority of young people (69%), the EU is above all an economic union and an area with open borders where people can travel and work freely.

Furthermore, 62% believe that the bloc is a peacekeeping alliance. In Spain and Italy in particular, young people want EU member states to be more integrated into the bloc.

“I have the feeling that we expect the European Union to solve a lot of big problems,” says Daniela. “But at the same time, countries don’t want to give up their individual powers. That’s why I really hope that the European Union will have more formal powers in the future, so that it can face the challenges.”

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