The Young Rightward Shift: Another Political Myth

As a father of two, I have been very angry over the last few weeks, and not because of my childrens’ behaviour. Angry about what has been written about this generation and their voting patterns during the recent European and other elections: “moving to the right”, “going back to the 1950s”, and other bad takes. I am always wondering whether those journalists and self-entitled experts have ever listened to this generation carefully. Have they ever critically reflected on the wording they use to describe or, worse, accuse young people, such as “conservative”, “right-wing”, or even outright “extremist”? Or are they simply incapable of understanding the true nature of the challenges young people in Europe are currently facing? I can’t help thinking that those people are actually looking back towards their own “glorious” youth (which one?) or sticking to some fancy, old-fashioned left-wing dreams that don’t resonate any longer with the new generation. Inconvenient truths! We know that this experience is quite painful, and people tend to bash others rather than themselves. But putting a whole generation in one basket, pinning labels such as “right-wing” on it and insinuating a lack of the “right” consciousness is unfair, doesn’t resonate with reality and is politically short-sighted.

Those voices should look more carefully into the real concerns of young Europeans. How should they be addressed? And why did certain parties profit from the votes of young people? Three policy areas are key for Europe’s youth: economic insecurity; education and labour markets; and identity. Not all are domains of EU policies, but Europe matters in each more than ever.

Economic insecurity  

Across Europe, economic security is the highest concern among the young generation. For a large part of their lives, this generation has lived through a series of crises, none of them truly solved. The debt amassed by states to cope with those crises will have to be paid off during their entire lives. Technological revolutions, such as AI, will put them under tremendous pressure to adapt; for many of them with low or even mid-level qualifications, the danger of being replaced by machines and algorithms is real. In almost all European countries, being born in rural areas comes along with the harsh decision to leave for urban areas or to face much fewer opportunities in terms of income. This is more relevant for young men, while young women often show higher mobility due to their higher education level.

Among all economic grievances, having no perspective of ever owning a decent home ranks most important among young people. Owning property can hardly be underestimated in terms of promoting social cohesion, belief in a market-based economy and trust in a democratic order. While 70 per cent of Europeans consider themselves middle-class, the economic basis is eroding, and young people are more affected than others.

Education/labour market

Teachers have warned us for years, particularly after COVID-19, about the long-lasting effects of protection measures which largely served the interests of the older generation. Until today, no open public debate has happened on the unequal burden the young generation had to bear when educational institutions and social spaces shut down. Lack of qualifications, delayed entrance to the labour market, and unstable employment are blurring the perspectives for the young generation.


Fundamental cultural changes reinforce these stress factors. After decades of secularisation and diminishing traditions, “composing” a stable identity has never been more difficult than for the current generation. The fluidity of gender concepts, as a significant part of this modernisation process, has created in some parts of this generation a return to rather traditional values and roles. However, one should understand this as a rebalancing rather than a reactionary movement. And one should not forget that the young generation is and will be most affected by the unsolved challenge of mass migration and failed integration, including young migrants themselves as well!

Intergenerational burden sharing

The “silent revolution” of demographic changes has put the question of fair burden sharing across the generations on the decision table – a table where the young generation has never been fairly represented. Many political decisions, despite being labelled sustainable, are clearly biased in terms of following the principle of equal living changes for all generations.

Readers might have missed so far climate change and the environment – and of course the whole debate on social media, discourse culture and alternative realities. These topics remain high on the political agenda of the young generation. Yet, whatever you might believe of “echo chambers”, and “alternative realities”, don’t underestimate their awareness, common sense, and prudence. They are closer to reality than many of those who think their worldview is the only correct one.

If you now might call these topics and demands of the young Europeans for concrete solutions “conservative”, “right”, or even “extremist,” then I can live with it because those challenges need “extreme” answers. The time for muddling through at the expense of the young generation has been gone. If moderate political forces don’t step in with proposals and actions, other truly left-wing and right-wing extremists will.