Can Youth Revitalise Democracy?

Session with young people in the Council of Europe, Strasbourg 2014, Spotlight Europe
Council session with young people in the Council of Europe, Strasbourg 2014 (picture ©Council of Europe/Klara Beck )

Youth Council for the Future member Clara was invited to participate at the “World Forum for Democracy” in Strasbourg in November 2014. It was initiated by the Council of Europe and centred the debate how to make young people engage in parliamentary elections. (More information)

The World Forum for Democracy is a gathering to debate key challenges of democracies worldwide. As a participant of this meeting in 2014, I thought it might be interesting to share my impressions of this event.

Is a big event of three days regarding “Youth in Democracy” enough to give the European youth its place in important decision-making processes? No, definitely not. But it may be a start, and every great step needs a beginning. Since the focus of this year’s Forum was the youth, more than 240 young people from all over the world were invited to discuss democracy. The event should give young people the opportunity to share their ideas of democracy with influential personalities from politics and business exchange.

Clara and Sofia with the Youth Council Manifesto at the World Forum for Democracy, Spotlight Europe
Clara and Sofia with the Youth Youncil Manifesto at the World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg. (Picture by Clara Hachmann)

The 3days-meeting was split into three different categories: There were the large “hemicycle speeches” about youth, there were “LABs” in which youth projects were presented including small discussions, and finally there were “prototype groups” in which young people could develop their ideas of democracy for a better future. Additionally, there was a fourth category, the “Unconferences”, where the major issues of today were discussed. But these topics were discussed at the same time with the prototype-groups. So I could not participate in this.

The speeches in the big hemicycles included several topics – from “digitalisation of our society” up to “youth in elections”. I listened to Daniela Chacon, Vice-Mayor of Quito. Her subject was the low youth participation in elections. „In order to change the system, it is necessary to participate in the system”, she quoted. Unfortunately, there was not enough time for discussion. So, more than three quarters of the questions asked were not answered.

The Labs presented special projects of youth and democracy from all over the world. At first a project was described, then some experts (university professors and journalists) gave their opinion and finally there was a discussion with the audience – of cause mainly composed of young people.

After this we started the prototype-groups. They were the “heart” of the forum, since we already prepared them 3 days before with intensive work and we even had a lot of online chats for months on this subject. In the direct discussion with young people from all over the world, we all got another, much richer perspective of “youth in democracy”.

Apart from speeches and discussions with experts, there were 4 prototype-groups, each with 12 participants. We already started months ago via Internet with the objective to find new, innovative or also naive ideas for creating a “perfect democracy”. I belonged to one of these groups, the “yellow” prototype. Together we dreamed our perfect democracy and then we tried to find ways to get closer to these ideas.

Young people standing in a row with their mouths shut by a plaster, Spotlight Europe
Meeting with other young people from all over the world inspired many to discuss new, innovative ways of promoting democracy.(picture ©Council of Europe/Candice Imbert)

To discuss sometimes maybe foolish ideas with other young people from all over the world was quite inspiring. We thought about “online votes for every political decision” or “the right for children to vote” – certainly, sometimes our ideas were a little crazy or unrealistic, but: Any change always starts with a dream, doesn’t it? In the end after a long, sometimes productive, sometimes rather less productive days, our work of a couple of months was finally finished. We called it “We dreamed democracy … NOW WHAT?!!?”

Last but not least there was leisure time. It’s definitely easier to get to know people in the evening at the bar instead of in the sometimes stressy work on the daytime. We talked, sang and danced the night away! I found some really good friends within those few days. It is great to meet so many people from all over the world.

To cut a long story short: The forum was definitely a lot of work, stress, and a lot of English speaking… However: If you ever get the chance to go there – don’t miss it!

About the author:
Clara Hachmann, Spotlight Europe
Clara – Author at Spotlight Europe

Clara (18) participated at the My Europe workshop in Munich, Germany, in 2013. She is involved in the work with the Youth Council for the Future.

Youth on Europe

Youth Council Panel discussion with MEP Elmar Brok
Simona (3rd from left side) at the Youth Council Panel discussion with MEP Elmar Brok (4th from left side) at the Steigenberger Hotel in Frankfurt, Germany.

2 months ago I received a very special invitation, one to be part of a discussion forum in Frankfurt on 14 November 2014. Known as “Youth on Europe – Regionalisation of the EU”, it was meant to introduce Mr Elmar Brok. He has been a German Member of the European Parliament for almost 35 years and is the current Chairman of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs.

“We have done our research, read all there was to be, followed closely news and foreign affairs.”

As a member of the YCF I had a chance to meet him, along with 4 of my colleagues and be part of a discussion panel on Regionalisation of the EU. We may not have been experts, but he surely was. We have done our research, read all there was to be, followed closely news and foreign affairs. Lastly, we packed and got on a plane to Frankfurt.

Coming back to this city was something I really looked forward to. It is the perfect mix of a small town and a big town, new and old. It has something for everyone. And, of course, I got to meet with my colleagues and the awesome guys who run the “My Europe” Initiative. After spending some time in the city and meeting for a small teambuilding it was time to head for the event.

The first thing that could tell us this would be a special night was laying eyes on the hotel. The event was held in the fanciest most elegant one I have seen, bar none. We got there early to plan and prepare. Changed the strategy a bit and patiently waited for the distinguished guests to arrive.

Meeting Mr Brok was something much better than expected. While I had a great opinion of his person, I was so pleasantly surprised to see how nice and approachable he was, how eager to discuss with you, how for him each and every one of us and what we had to say mattered. We bonded over some political small talk and then got to our seats.

Now was not the moment to be nervous. We were supposed to debate European policy and try to come up with sensible answers and pertinent solutions, while in the presence of such distinguished members. And let’s not forget, all of it was broadcasted over the internet. That was all, nothing to worry about.

“[T]he more independence a region has, the more independence it wants.”

I could not tell you what exactly we have talked about. Of course, regionalisation in general and specific cases of Scotland and Catalonia were the main topics of the evening. It was so interesting to hear what our distinguished guest had to say. We did not have any big breakthroughs on the issues of Europe, but it definitely was a learning experience for me. Mr Brok said that, the more independence a region has, the more independence it wants. When writing a constitution or when redacting laws one must always bear in mind that, in order to respect the nature of a unitary state, all regions should be equal. A parent is never supposed to love one child more, let alone show it.

I will let the video (and respectively us) speak for itself, as you can watch the panel on the “My Europe” website and we urge you to do so. It is always interesting to see people coming together from different countries, different cultures, people who have learned and live different things. You are what Europe is all about: “United in Diversity”. That is one motto we stand by at “My Europe”.

I would like once again to thank Mr Brok, the amazing people from “My Europe” who organized this event and took care of us, our distinguished guests and all of you guys and girls at home who watch us, who read what we write, who are invested in what we do.

Auf Wiedersehen, Frankfurt!


Simona, Member of the Youth Council for the future, Spotlight EuropeSimona (19) is member of the Youth Council for the Future.  She joined “My Europe” after the workshop in Bucharest in 2011.