Youth in a Changing Europe – Our Final Declaration

Due to political upheavals in various countries across Europe, Citizens of Europe with its partner organisations NGO Centre for United Action (Ukraine), Association of supporting Social Cultural Economic Development ASCED (Turkey) and Associazione Work in Progress (Italy), decided to bring together young people from the region to discuss their particular role in recent protests and their concerns and ideas for European youth’s engagement in democratic life. During the seminar ‘Youth in a Changing Europe’ held on 3-9 August 2015 in Berlin, the participants adopted the following declaration.

As young people from Turkey, Italy, Ukraine and Germany we are concerned about political developments in our countries. We want to call on the European governments to act upon three principal issues important in our societies: 1) Democracy, 2) Diversity and 3) Media.

1) For us as young people the cornerstones of democratic states are free and fair elections, the rule of law as well as economic issues related to education and social mobility. In our point of view the main problem of elections is the lack of participation. The possible solutions according to our understanding are the implementation of ‘e-participation’ via an electronic voting system, wider usage of social advertising, and establishing the system of vote incentives, which, when combined, would result in increasing the population’s interest – particularly youth’s – in the electoral process. As we looked at the situation from the ‘rule of law’ perspective we found the main problems to be corruption and insufficient resources in judicial system. To counteract this we suggest the introduction of ‘anti corruption courses’ as a part of the school curriculum. Moreover, we suggest creating an ‘e-transparency’ service, which would allow citizens to monitor the incomes of civil servants.

The main problem of elections is the lack of participation

We believe there is ‘social stigma’ attached to vocational education and services in many societies and these types of activities are often perceived to be somehow inferior to professionals of higher education (e.g. lawyers, economists etc.). This, in turn, causes the imbalance between the demand for professionals in society and the education the younger generation is receiving. Therefore we propose the following solutions: a wider usage of education and social advertising promoting vocational education as well as organising social events which would shift the public opinion on this issue.

2) As ‘young people’ is not a heterogeneous group but consists of a diversity of identities, we think it is important to emphasise three elements related to youth in a changing Europe: 1) education, 2) culture and 3) political life. Our main question concerning education is how educational policies can address the needs of young people with diverse backgrounds. In this respect, we believe that non-formal education, such as exchange programs and social events including international youth gatherings are crucial because education contributes to the values of diversity at an early age.

Moreover, we are concerned with the question of how to best preserve different cultures in multicultural societies. We believe that it is important to raise awareness of the richness, positive effects and issues of living in a multicultural community among young people. In addition, we think it is important to enhance youth’s participation in politics and political decision-making processes. However, we think that there is a missing link between high-level politicians and politically engaged youth. In addition, under-representation of youth in both formal and non-formal political sphere is a common problem in our countries. For these reasons, we encourage decision-makers to involve youngsters in political processes. In this regard, politicians need to discuss special quota to facilitate and foster youth participation in formal political life.

3) As freedom of speech is one of the basic principles of a democratic society, media should become a multi-voiced tool for young people to facilitate expressing their opinions and concerns. We want to stress the importance of independent reliable media to make sure that every level of the society has access to information.

With the rise of social media platforms, which are both generators and consumers of media products, we stress the importance of people’s awareness and observance of their rights and responsibilities in social media. We call for our governments to establish clear and effective laws regulating the media environment and to provide educational platforms to promote media ethics and cultivate critical thinking in the consumption of media products. At the same time, every voice should be heard and given feedback. We believe this could be achieved by establishing well functioning online and offline platforms for public debates with decision makers. Such platforms could integrate both traditional media and social media in order to reach every potential information consumer.