In our second segment of our campaign #EUElectionsAndMe, E&M looks into a major issue that has plagued European Elections for many years, that of democratic participation. E&M’s Friederike Sandow meets with Operation Götterfunken’s Ana-Marija Cvitic on innovative ways young Europeans can be coaxed to vote.

The voter turnout in the European Parliament elections has been on a steady decline since 1979, when the first elections were held. There was a slight up from 2009 to 2014 but only by 0,9 percentage points. After the election in 2014 we are looking at a voter turnout of 43,9%. A turnout that is, let’s face it – abysmal. Why do Europeans not vote?

EU citizens:
a) don’t think their vote counts (that’s sad and a problem)
b) think that by not voting they send a signal that they’re not supporting EU politics and thus take a stance against the ‘establishment’/ ‘system’ (that’s not how it works, though)
or c) don’t care or even know they’re taking place.

Especially the young Europeans, the first time voters, the generation that the votes of today will affect most in the long run, the generation that does not know a life without the EU, they need to go and vote. But they don’t.

It is important to communicate to them that they need to go and vote without thinking that their vote embraces every decision and policy of the European Union. We all know that life in the European Union that is far from perfect. Voting does not say it is perfect, voting is our time – our direct say in politics that only comes every five (!!!) years, to vote for people who think along the lines as we do.
Not voting is not boycott, not voting is lending your voice to forces you actually do not want to represent you in the end. Only when you vote you can influence the direction of your future – may it be more social, more just, more transparent, less white and less male.

Don’t fuck the EU, fuck each other. It’s the hidden motto of Erasmus anyway.

The low voter turnout means that radical parties can thrive. Far-right parties have always been good at rallying their people to the election booth. And the masses that do not vote are usually the ones who do not really know why they should vote and who doubt that their voice would matter anyways.

In light of the European Elections on the 26th of May a lot of initiatives, corporations and parties have initiated campaigns that have one simple message: GO VOTE.

One initiative in particular does it like no other – the Operation Götterfunken. A German-based grassroots initiative of volunteers, of like-minded people, have joined forces in communicating the need to vote for a democratic EU on 26th of May to millennials.
They have recently spoken with us, and we highly encourage you to share their memes. They’re pretty cool.

Hey guys, thank you for speaking with us. Tell us, what is the ‘Operation Götterfunken’?
Hey! We are a collective of about 35 designers, copywriters and strategists from various agencies, organisations and backgrounds. What unites us is our love of Europe, and we’ve joined forces to develop an independent campaign in order to engage election-wary millennials. We want to tickle the funny bones of the young generations to deliver the message of how the EU has an incredible impact on their lives.

What are your mechanisms to motivate young people to vote?
The European Union is perceived as an administrative apparatus that has little to do with us, the lay people. We are trying to make European politics tangible by implementing lifestyle elements and a relatable tone of voice. The EU is omnipresent in our lives and we want to emphasise that. We think that initiatives should convey European issues playfully and with humour instead of depicting the EU as a terrifying system of technocrats.

Our insight is: The European Union is like WiFi: you don’t appreciate it until it’s gone. If it were to disappear, it would be catastrophic. We want to activate the imagination of the young European generation and tell them: A life without the EU is like a life without WiFi. Hard. Save it, go vote.

So we decided to show the invisible benefits of the EU in daily life and how we take it for granted using humour. In both German and French, we use memes to target our young audience in their online environment with a campaign to show what would happen if the EU were to disappear. Using relatable phrases and situation that will strike them most, e.g. ‘A life without the EU, is like Netflix without chill’. These memes will be deliberately designed to show representative examples of our partners and followers. For the #FridayForFuture activists – “Life without the EU is like Fridays without Future”. For the gym buffs and bunnies – “Life without the EU is like the gym without mirror selfies”. Probably everyone can relate to: “Life without EU is like Netflix without chill.“

That sounds fun, but is it about content or visibility? Do you think it is possible to have both?
Both. We’ve chosen a tone and visual design that communicates a lifestyle campaign, something that the EU wouldn’t choose itself but it speaks the language of our young target audience. With that approach we are one of the very few European initiatives that really connects politics with visual aesthetics and tonality of the young generation within the digital sphere.

Why do you think it‘s so important to take part in the EU election? What’s your go-to argument to people who say: “it doesn’t matter if I vote or not”?
We are honest with our audience. We tell them: You are right, we know that Europe isn’t perfect. But we believe that those who resign themselves to apathy and don’t vote, give up too soon – leaving Europe to those who want to destroy it, to those who stand for far-right ideas and nation states and division. So we make the election about the young people themselves. We tell them: If we don’t vote, we may soon wake up in a Europe without a European Union. In a Europe with hard borders between Germany and Italy, with Deutsche Mark and Lira instead of Euros. In a Europe with expensive roaming fees on holidays in France and internships in Essen and Eberswalde, instead of Amsterdam or Athens. Our call to action is: You have the choice. Help bring the politicians to Brussels who truly represent your interests. Make Europe your Europe. It’s too late to do nothing.

Do you think humour is enough motivation to go vote?
Of course not. But it should be a part of it – or at least it can be. A big part of politics in general are emotions, dreams, inspiration – and humour. I would not vote for a politician that I don’t identify with; I don’t want to vote for a technocrat apparatus either. I want to vote for inspirational people with visions and ideas for our future, I want to vote for a community and for people who are intellectually and inter-culturally capable to build bridges between the 512 millions inhabitants of the EU. We need more symbols in the EU as well as charismatic politicians, so humour is a big part of it.
And of course we need more political education in schools about what the EU is and what it does for us.

How big of a part did Brexit play in your planning and ideas?
Not that much for this campaign since the UK will participate in the elections anyway. But the Brexit vote and the current shitshow is a huge reason why it’s worth to fight for young votes: If the young would have voted they could have prevented Brexit, right?

What’s your European Union nightmare?
Marine Le Pen and a Frexit. Or an Italexit. Or any other country-exit. And the danger that the political elite in Brussels might underestimate the danger of climate change and react too slowly.

And what’s your dream?
That the European Union invests in its youth: That it guarantees education and a job that someone can live off, social security and environmental protection so that we will have a future worth living in.

When we wake up on 27th what will give cause for celebration?
It would be great to see that the voter turn-out among the youth is higher than the last time. Actually not only young, in general.

Where’s the Operation Götterfunken going after the election?
First we will go for a beer and then hopefully on vacation, election campaigns are exhausting. After the election we have to look for another political reason to fight for but that’s still in the stars.

What is your favourite Meme?
Don’t fuck the EU, fuck each other. It’s the hidden motto of Erasmus anyway.

  • mm

    Friederike Sandow loved her studies at the University of Bath and Berlin, she would study forever if she could. Once she quit her job as a flight attendant and thus, with a heavy heart, was not constantly off travelling the world, she started to roam the streets of Neukölln, Berlin. She is now working as a consultant at a Berlin based agency and still struggles with the regular office hours. Once the morning grumpiness has been cured with a big cup of coffee, she‘ll tell you all about her undying love for cats, octopuses, Italy and Leslie Knope.

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