In or out? Open access to decision-making for all young Europeans
Decision-making is arguably the most important element of politics. The decisions made in parliaments and institutions all over Europe, at all levels, define both the surroundings that we live in as well as the rules we as individuals live by. The decision-making process is closely connected to legitimacy, a concept that is not seldom contested at a European Union level (see European democratic deficit). After all, if those the EU represents are not part of the decision-making process, how can the decisions made be legitimate?
In this series of common articles, our ambassadors give an insight into the accessibility of decision-making in different countries, areas and levels. Moreover, they show how decision-making could be improved, especially for younger people, like you and I. Therefore, these articles do not only give an overview of the positive and negative aspects of decision-making nor do they exclusively cover the accessibility thereof for young people. Instead, this article series provides new ideas and solutions to improve decision-making process as a whole.
On behalf of all our Ambassadors I wish you a happy reading.
Jasper Gruiters – 2017-18 Senior Ambassador
By Stefan Pfalzer, Ambassador to Austria
As the younger generation, the policies currently made by the political class will affect us the longest. People under the age of 30 currently make up one third of the EU’s population, yet among our elected officials, our age group tends not to be represented to such an extent. Where we are involved, there is the caveat of tokenism, a pretense of involvement, exchange and consultation. How can we ensure that the young have access to societal decision making?
Access to the political decision-making process as well as your political interest and your will to engage correlate with one’s level of education.
In Austria, statistics show that the level of education you will attain heavily depends on your parents’ level of education. Not only are children of academics more likely to become academics themselves, they were also found to live up to six years longer and earn twice as much as their non-academic fellow citizens.
Whether you are born in a city or the countryside, whether your parents immigrated or, whether they went to university – all these factors play a significant role in enabling or constraining your access to the decision-making process.
The state thus needs to create policies that even out these inequalities and provide the same opportunities to everyone regardless of their luck in the birth lottery.
Moreover, Member States should follow the European Union’s template and institutionalise their own version of the Structured Dialogue, a format created to foster communication between young people and the Union’s decision makers.
Whether in Brussels, Lisbon, Bucharest or Vienna, dedicated young people everywhere are committing themselves to their ideals in associations, interest and pressure groups, societies etc. However, meaningful inclusion of young people presupposes a political platform. We are determined to face the challenges of the future and willing to work out solutions. Will they be heeded?
In the Republic of Croatia, accessibility to decision making is limited. Why? Because of the lack of information and transparency in the country. The Croatian public is familiar only with a stereotyped version of Brussels. There is only a small group of students that is interested in European studies, the European Union and know how it functions.
What would be a good strategy to include young people not only in the decision making process but in the European Union in general? The answer is simple: decentralisation from the national level to the regional level. Each member state would be divided into regions in line with its population size. Every region would then have a specialised body in the regional assemblies who would be responsible for incorporating EU directives in the regions’ field of power. This specialised body would employ people who would work for the EU, not the national government. Its priority would be to implement direct democracy and enhance the democratic process in the EU by organising public debates with citizens, in which they would be able to propose changes. In the form of a citizens’ initiative locals could then collect signatures to legitimate their decision. The proposed changes would be reviewed and implement by this specialised body if the issue is relatively small. On the other hand, if the problem is bigger it would be send to Brussels. Another task of this body would be organizing events and workshops to promote the EU on the regional level ; especially among the local youth.
By Konstantinos Poyiadjis, Ambassador to Cyprus
In my home country, Cyprus, I believe that the youth unfortunately does not have the same opportunities as the older generations did back when they were young. Especially young people from non-urban areas of Cyprus have fewer opportunities for political participation since organizations – political or not – are mainly located in cities. This is a result of the phenomenon of urbanization: on the one hand,the population in rural areas has declined rapidly; on the other hand, there has been a lack of government policy for young people.
Moreover, each person’s educational background as well as their age plays a large role. The more educate a young person is, the more opportunities they will have regarding political participation. A common problem the young Cypriots often face is that they do not have equal employment opportunities. It is a matter of great concern that young people are not interested in taking part in decision-making centers. Therefore, I strongly believe that the «youth policy» of the European Union should focus on incentives for employers to employ young people. Not only would such an approach likely benefit the economy of Cyprus, but it would also increase social results for everyone, especially the youth in Cyprus.
By Andri Stavrou, Ambassador to Belgium
Youth participation in politics is one of the most crucial issues in European member states. This brings up the question whether today’s young Europeans are more involved in political affairs than ever. Certainly, they are more educated compared to previous generations, but that does not automatically mean that they are more involved. In fact, there seems to be a lack of youth participation in the European decision-making process. A great number of reasons may be responsible for this deficit such as lack of interest, unemployment or the location. In particular, living in the countryside and having to travel long distances to reach a political activity can marginalize and discourage the youth, leaving them without any opportunities for political engagement; in particular the minors who do not have many transportation options. So, what can be done to bridge the gap between the youth and politics? I believe there are three ways. First, given that the youth (16-24 ages) comprises the largest number of user of social media (Eurostat, 2016), politicians should improve their communication capabilities in order to become open to the public and exchange points of views with them. Second, instead of supporting bureaucratic and complex systems, governments should publish more simplified documents that are easily explained and accessible to all citizens. Last but not least, political education should be implemented in the school curriculum in order to educate young people from the early age. While this policy has already been implemented in many European States, others such as the United Kingdom are far from the implementation of such an idea. Our world is constantly changing and thus the political decision-making process should do the same. Empowering the youth today will result in more experienced, democratic and responsible leaders tomorrow.
By Bejenaru Cristina, Ambassador to Moldova
When speaking about political and social fields, the decision-making process represents a strategic move for social development. Since its independence, Moldova has sought to assure the principles of democracy and allow citizens to be involved in the decision-making process. Hence, the public consultations of policies and strategies for development are a positive practice of the Moldovan government as all calls for consultations are being publicly spread on websites and announcements.
Youth involvement in the decision-making process can be described as poor and insufficient. The problem of youth access to the decision-making process is based on several major factors:
- Lack of interest. The youth usually does not pay attention to government initiatives, being discouraged by the poverty and critical social situation of the country.
- Migration. Another major problem is the high rate of unemployment and the lack of perspectives for young people and young families. Over the course of last year, there has been a significant number of young families moving abroad and acquiring the citizenship of another country.
- Lack of initiative. While the decision-making process has a public tool for consultations, there have not been any initiatives to create a mechanism or youth body that represent the voice of youth in the public arena. Several political parties have branches for youth but these are inefficient and poorly represented in the decision-making process.
Moreover, there is a major discrepancy between rural and urban areas since the youth from the countryside are underrepresented in their villages. In general, youth activity does not exist in all social areas.
In conclusion, while Moldova promotes the public tools for an effective decision-making process, there is a need for the establishment of a national body to represent youth initiatives and to actively involve youth in the decision-making process at all levels.