Thinking of Europe March 1, 2023


What does it mean for young people today to be European? How do they look at Europe in the face of multiple crises and what drives them? Based on qualitative interviews, the report ‘Taking Europe Personally: Young Narratives of Europe’ explores young Europeans' perceptions of Europe, their perspectives on current conflicts and visions for the future of Europe. It is published jointly by the Schwarzkopf Foundation Young Europe and the Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft as part of the Thinking of Europe-programme.


The report is based on 13 interviews conducted in May and September 2022 in Armenia and Germany by the Understanding Europe network. The 13 volunteers interviewed for the report represent a group of young Europeans who are well-informed about European politics and engaged in strengthening civil society. They come from eight European countries and are between 18 and 25 years old.  

The report seeks to give access to narratives young Europeans believe in and base their actions on. It explores what it means to be young and European today.  

In individual interviews imaginaries of Europe become apparent. The process of imagining relies on an available stock of knowledge, figures of speech, popular culture, and intuitive limits of the possible. 


The report reflects different young perspectives and discusses the concept of (non-)belonging in Europe, and the feelings of privileges and discrimination associated with it, the concerns of young people, relationship between nation states and the European Union (EU) and explores the perspectives of young Europeans on the role of democratic citizenship education and finally their visions for the future of Europe

First, the idea of belonging is multidimensional, encompassing emotional attachment, legal and political regulations, and geographical linkage. Many participants reflected on their privileges that allowed them to feel naturally part of Europe, while others felt discriminated against, including three Romanian participants who shared their experiences of discrimination and stereotyping while traveling in Western Europe. Belonging can be felt, performed, or imposed, and the same applies to non-belonging. The report highlights those emotions play a crucial role in understanding what Europe means to young Europeans beyond a political or economic union. Some participants wished for more civil education with a focus on what it means to be European, while others saw themselves as part of a legacy to continue the vision of a community of values. The report also explores how young Europeans 'live Europe' in their daily lives. 

The concerns of young people in Europe: One of the major preoccupations is conflicts and crises, such as Brexit and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which create a need for narratives that provide predictability and orientation in a volatile and crisis-ridden environment. Young people value internal cohesion and heightened loyalties, and conflicts also cause competition over resources. Another concern is the tension between European values and hypocrisy, with solidarity emerging as a central value in times of crisis. Many participants affirmed the existence of European values, such as freedom of speech and diversity, and advocated for value-based foreign policies that do not allow economic deals with dictatorships. 

The relationship between nation states and the European Union (EU) and whether the two are seen as compatible or in competition with each other. It discusses the benefits of EU membership and the need for clear understanding, which can be hindered by national pride and national calculus. The article explores three reasons why national narratives are more accessible, simpler, and more emotionally anchored than narratives about Europe. These reasons are that the EU is an entity that is in constant need of explanation, the construct of states had a head start on the European Union, and in a European context, the semantic material for the creation of collective identities is highly diverse, scattered and often mutually inaccessible. The article notes that nationalist movements of the far-right are on the rise in Europe, exalting one's own nation and devaluing other nations. 

The perspectives of young Europeans on the role of democratic citizenship education and their visions for the future of Europe. The interviewees believe that education should teach us how to engage in society and be active European citizens, but they also point out that citizenship education has major deficits and structural challenges in many European countries. As a solution, they joined Understanding Europe, which allows them to first get training and then reach more young people through the workshops they give at schools. The interview participants reject a Europe that is only ‘good on paper’ but does not stand up to its values. They advocate for younger members of parliament, more visibility and equality for marginalized countries, more coherent EU foreign policy, and more empathy and courage to tackle present crises and challenges. Overall, enabling critical thinking and dealing with contradictions and understanding plurality are essential skills that today’s young Europeans need to shape their own continent. 

Read the full report here.

For further questions please contact Christopher Büdeker.