An opportunity for the youth of Europe to have its say

Article published on April 14, 2003
community published
Article published on April 14, 2003

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

How the Youth Convention has tried to overcome difficulties and publish a promising politically committed text, that has, unsurprisingly, fallen into obscurity.

A paragraph in the Laeken Declaration on the Future of the European Union sums up the key points of the debate: The Union needs to become more democratic, more transparent and more efficient. It also has to resolve three basic challenges: how to bring citizens, and primarily the young, closer to the European design and the European institutions, how to organise politics and the European political area in an enlarged Union and how to develop the Union into a stabilising factor and a model in the new, multipolar world.

From Laeken to civil society

The Declaration confirms that we have an economically strong, politically weak, socially invisible EU. Monnets idea of the EU as going beyond a mere economic union to speak of a reunification of peoples is more pertinent than ever. And so the Convention for the Debate over the Future of Europe was born, without a specific agenda.

Even with the difficulty in current times of talking about a rapprochement to the citizenry, of the structuring of politics and of multipolar worlds, it is precisely this that has been the work of the Convention over the past year. Either because of not wanting to miss the opportunity of making the Union more participatory or because of pressure from social organisations, there have been a few instances of dialogue with civil society.

First it was the Consultation of Civil Society Organisations, where the speeches led only to disharmony without the establishment of a dialogue between organisations and institutions. Once more it was made quite clear that there is more to such a dialogue than just the assertion of good intentions in full session; it involves listening, reflecting and understanding.

The Youth Convention: a bad start

The second attempt at a rapprochement to civil society was made by the Youth Convention, an exact imitation of a session of the Grown-ups Convention. As usual, we were invited to play at being politicians. And so 210 young people from 28 European countries convened in Brussels to debate and agree on an innovative, creative - and possibly unreal - vision of the future of the EU. It was a big challenge: a doubtfully-representative selection of delegates, an agenda which was impossible to accomplish and, initially at least, an atmosphere of distrust. We really started off badly.

Despite all this, we succeeded, though not without an exemplary and arduous exercise in slow-moving democracy. Seventy-two hours later we had a consensual document - fourteen pages long, with a solid image of the EU of the future, together with its imperfections - ready to be presented at the plenary of the Convention; ready to be debated and its proposals to be considered by the working parties of the Convention.

A cause for pride

The document in question went beyond mere youth opinion on an EU for young people, as was urged from the outset; it advanced the idea of an EU founded on certain fundamental values such as peace, dialogue, solidarity and liberty, as well as the wish for a federal EU, progressive in its policies, with a defining role in the international agenda; and with a constitution that embraces all this. It achieved too a consensus over a model of division of the three powers aimed at a more transparent and understandable democracy, more efficient and more solid, that would, in one fell swoop, overcome all the shortcomings of the current complex framework of European institutions.

The subject of international politics provoked much discussion: we discussed the need to defend the Union without falling into the demagoguery of the fight against international terrorism, as well as the need for a common foreign policy for the Union that will fight for a multipolar world order. These proposals define the necessity for political development of the Union, which would most probably have changed the course of conflicts such as that of Kosovo, the current Iraqi crisis or the dying crises of Palestine and the Western Sahara.

A paragraph was dedicated to the issue of solidarity: we upheld it as a much more effective source of world stability than any security and defence policy. Migration we considered a human right, a source of enrichment for society, a sustainable development and a responsibility to future generations. Regional policies of cooperation must be founded on the promotion of democracies and respect for cultural realities. Another issue was the process of integration at the time of the enlargement of the EU. All these ideas featured in the document, and we have reason to be very satisfied with our efforts.

The absent trio

Nevertheless, there were three notable absentees from this youth convention, replicating the mistakes of the senior Convention: there was no debate over gender politics (as at the adult Convention, the percentage of women did not exceed 10%) nor were there any proposals for a policy of equality between men and women. An in-depth debate over the roles of women and men in the development of societies and the contribution they can make would have enriched the document, making everyone feel equal.

Another conspicuous absentee was education, which wasnt mentioned beyond the defence of a free, universal education system. On the matter of higher education the senior Convention had it easy and could have built upon the agreements reached in the Process of Bologna, above all in relation to the creation of a European Space of Higher Education which they hope to achieve in 2010 , but on this point too the Convention was a failure. Neither was there any mention of informal education as forming a part of a permanent training process, nor of the need for it to be recognised and validated in our curricula.

And the third big absentee was participation. Even though the value of social movements and the appearance of new forms of participation were recognised, neither the claim nor the proposal ought to have been passed over. The establishment of a permanent channel for communication between institutions and civil society organisations was, after all, our responsibility.

It is these deficiencies, among others, which will ensure that the proposals of the Youth Convention will be almost impossible to follow up. And so our document became mere recondite scraps of paper amongst a mountain of papers in the bottom of some briefcase. I would be pleased if some curious member of the Convention were to read it over on their way to Brussels.