With young, activist citizens marching en masse for ends like Fridays For Future and Black Lives Matter, it is becoming increasingly clear that their opinions are not reflected well in the European political agenda of today. In an age where more and more citizens get involved in political movements digitally, European democracies fail to accommodate citizens that engage in politics virtually. What should Member States do to improve the engagement between policy makers and the younger generations via digital means?
Committee on Constitutional Affairs (AFCO)
Emilie Lutz (FR)
Nadège Widmer (CH)
Topic at a Glance
The participation of over 153 countries in Fridays For Future protests on 27th September 2019, gathering altogether over 3.7 million people, shows the growing importance of activism among young people. Digital activism or cyberactivism, is defined as a form of activism using the internet and digital media as key platforms for mass mobilisation and political action. This non-traditional form of political engagement challenges the classical definition of civic culture. As a result, these new means of participation are scarcely taken into account and addressed by older generations and policy makers.
In the age of a global pandemic, digital means have been taken by storm and became increasingly significant tools of communication. However, the pandemic emphasised the challenges of getting involved as a young European and further exposed the issues around the value of cyberactivism.
Recently a general trend of decline in voter turnout has been noticed and is all the more marked in younger generations. First of all, it is important to point out that a drop in electoral participation does not imply less participation in civic life. The Eurobarometer survey conducted in 2017 depicts young people’s involvement in different social, cultural and political voluntary organisations. Platforms and organisations such as the European Youth Portal and the European Youth Forum (EYF) have played a considerable role in this progress. These institutions, which seek to strengthen the inclusion of youth in the political process, promote the engagement of young European citizens. For instance, the EYF represents more than 100 youth organisations from all over Europe. The EYF’s Strategic Plan 2020-2023 plans to empower young people by voicing their interests on the European level. The network strives to develop digital tools such as the EU Youth Dialogue which aims to create dialogue between young Europeans, youth organisations and policy makers.
The notion of e-democracy, including digital instruments for improving democratic practices, and its development illustrate a path for narrowing the gap between European citizens and their political representatives. The European Movement International’s position paper on Citizens’ participation in the digital age: e-democracy highlights the immense complexity of existing tools in the democratic process such as the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI). They urge the EU to set up a more user-friendly instrument and promote the integration of youth in such initiatives.
Relevant Policy Measures and Legal Framework
Within the framework of the European Commission’s Priorities for 2019-2024, a digital strategy has been developed in order to enhance the digital sovereignty of the European Union as well as establish standards. This initiative highlights the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in different areas of European interest, including building a reliable democratic society. The Movement for an Universal and Digitally Active Citizenship, which is one of the initiatives making up Shaping Europe’s digital future and part of the European Commission’s Digital Strategy, consists of increasing the access to the digital world in order to create active and critical citizens. Such initiatives represent a step in the right direction to integrate digital skills into democratic life.
A significant piece of policy measures concerning young Europeans is contained in the European Union Youth Strategy 2019-2027. The Council of the European Union emphasises through their resolution the need to tackle three specific areas within the youth sector, which are: engagement, the connection and the network. It promotes the usage of digital technologies and further highlights the understanding of these tools by young Europeans. This is reflected in the European Youth Goal #9 – Space and Participation for All, which acknowledges the importance of youth participation in the decision-making process.
Additionally, the Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Cyberactivism and civil society organisations identifies the shortcomings of European legislation, support and methodology relative to digital activism. The European Economic and Social Committee especially points out the lack of standards and principles in the application of mechanisms for cyberactivism. Their proposal for action suggests the implementation and development of digital infrastructure, which encourages cyberactivism and online participation in the political sphere.
According to Articles 6 and 165 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), the field concerning youth falls under the supporting competences of the EU. This implies that the EU can only intervene in order to support, coordinate or complement the actions of the Member States. Furthermore, the Member States do not have to harmonise national laws and regulations in this field, which makes it more challenging to achieve common goals throughout the EU. Recommendations can be drawn up and serve as guidelines for the Member States, but these proposals do not legally bind them.
In the area of digital rights, the European Digital Rights network serves as an advocate for rights and freedoms in cyberspace. Thus, this network is a key actor when it comes to the usage of digital instruments, especially in the democratic process.
Further Research and Questions
In the latest years, the importance of the youth and its interests seem to have become a more pressing issue for Member States. Political participation is a crucial topic on many levels: at the local, national, European and international levels. However, the increase in informal means of participation, especially the use of digital technologies, depicts the growing disparity in the democratic system. Further research ought to encompass the drivers of the lack of representation of young people in the EU.
- What role do policy-makers have to take on in order to allow a shift to digital engagement?
- How can digital tools change the decision-making process in order to increase the efficiency of the representation system?
- How can the EU encourage its Member States to take action considering their differences in the technologic field?
- How can the youth best voice their interest with existing tools and take part in the establishment of regulations regarding digital democracy?
- How would you like to participate in politics? What potential advantages do you see in the use of digital means to engage in politics?