Von Jan Liebnitzky
When young Europeans met from 17th to 20th October in Berlin to work on crisis issues and the future of the European Union (EU), everyone took productive ideas and projects to work on back home. The Youth Congress 2013 was hosted by Heinrich-Böll Foundation in cooperation with the Young European Federalists and the Federation of Young European Greens.
Europe is in a political and non-ending economic crisis, redrawing the borders of international solidarity. We hear anti-EU slogans by populist leaders, political extremes and movements from all over Europe, putting doubts on the project Europe and the Euro. One of the biggest issue is the sky rocking youth unemployment rate especially in Southern European countries and on the Balkan, leaving all young people that look for jobs with feelings of despair and helplessness also concerning the policies dictated by the Troika (ECB, IMF, European Commission). “They speak to us, but we cannot speak to them” was pointed out by one Youth Congress participant from Spain, bringing the second main problem on the table – the lack of participatory opportunities for European citizens to become actively involved in European politics.
The only real direct democratic element in the EU is the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI). It is defined in the Treaty of Lisbon (Art. 11, Para. 4, TEU and Article 24, TFEU) and gives EU citizens the possibility to propose topics of interest to the European Commission. It is hard work to gain one Million supporters in at least seven different member states, as Jerry Van de Berge knows, coordinating one of the few successful ECIs ‘Water is a human right’. Without the support of major non-governmental organisations (NGOs), civil society’s organisations (CSOs) or unions, it is hard to get your voice heard in the political arena in Brussels. Further, activists for ECIs have to overcome widespread political apathy, mistrust and aversion of EU citizens with regard to everything connected to the EU. The EU’s bad reputation could profit a lot from more effective participatory elements.
Solutions for the two problems, youth unemployment and the lack of participation, were discussed vividly in work intensive workshops at the Youth Congress 2013. At the end many inspiring project ideas came up, such as:
• The ‘28 days of Europe’ – campaign targets at pre-EP election time in May 2014, and is supposed to connect young people from all over Europe in social media platforms by sharing little videos, texts and photos, ending with the slogan “- better off in Europe”. The goal is to bring Europe together in solidarity and to counter anti-European tendencies, telling each other about local realities, projects and social life.
• ‘Defining Internship’ is an idea to set standards and norms for internships, to which companies, but also intergovernmental organisations and NGOs should conform to. This addresses precarious work conditions of the intern generation often not perceiving payment, being exploited and without having hope for future employment. Young Europeans often leave their country and families behind in order to work where market forces drive them.
• ‘GreenWatch’ wants to initiate a traffic light ranking for EU parliamentarians concerning their commitment to green energy and climate change, facilitating the information gathering about candidates in eco-related topics.
• ‘Youth Manifesto’ wants to kick-start a trans-European campaign to initiate a real European convention, which is, with regard to Article 48 of the Treaty of Lisbon, the only way to introduce more direct democratic and participatory elements in the EU. Being remembered of the failed referendum in France and the Netherlands in 2005, the goal of this project is to set up the convention process as democratic as possible with the inclusion of all parts of society in a bottom-up process.
Some projects already find fellow campaigners in the NGO scene, as for instance ‘Youth Manifesto’ with the work of Democracy International and the European Alternatives behind it. This is very promising for the actual success of the campaigns.