Committee on Constitutional Affairs
Chaired by Natia Ninoshvili (GE)
The gap between the representation of young people and their engagement in the development of European policy is expanding, partly due to the ongoing demographic transition1, potentially leading to systemic disadvantages for Europeans in the future. The Council of Europe declared its goal to “enable young people to be active citizens socially, as well as in the work-life”, thus joining other European institutions and organisations that frequently emphasise this issue. Youth involvement is crucial to promoting young people’s active citizenship2, improving their integration and inclusion, and strengthening their contribution to the operation and expansion of the democratic conversation.
To promote the revitalisation of parliaments, ten years ago the members of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) approved a remarkable resolution on youth engagement. However, these countries have only achieved somewhat success since its implementation, as, despite the union’s routine measurement of youth representation in parliaments, the numbers are still low.
- Currently, the average age of Members of the European Parliament is still 50 years, with national averages ranging from 44 to 60.
- Young people are important stakeholders in the roots of change, contributing to a more just and peaceful society.
- Young adults are those who choose engagement as they provide them with more informal, non-institutionalised, and individually important avenues of action.
- Traditional political fora provide obstacles to younger participation, thus young people feel excluded from traditional, mainstream ways of influencing political decision-making.
- The voting age and other standards concerning youth political measures differ among Member States.
A Danish politician, Kira Peter-Hansen, is the youngest female elected at twenty-one as a member of the Green Party of the European Parliament. Peter-Hansen represents both the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) and the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON). She focuses on ensuring that laws governing the economy, commerce, and labour markets all incorporate measures to address climate change. In the impending seven-year budget for the EU, she is also calling for a greener resource allocation. This includes greater funding for environmentally friendly farming and “research and technology that help enhance climate investment and transition”, thus contributing to amending the Current Agricultural Policy. However, considering the challenge of being surrounded by much older members of the parliament, Peter-Hansen sees her young age as a benefit. Peter-Hansen represents an example of young people who significantly engage in politics, whilst running organisations, holding elected office or contributing as active citizens.
The promotion of intergenerational discussion requires the involvement of young people. The younger generation tends to receive distrust and criticism from policymakers regarding their competency. However, from a legal perspective, they are entitled to engage in decision-making processes which further impact their future, considering that they will face the risks of outcomes. The reduction in political party membership that is visible across European democracies is further echoed by the declining participation of young people in institutions. Young people aged 15 to 24 are the youth cohort as defined by Eurobarometer surveys. Young individuals who do not (yet) have the right to vote or to take part in political activities are included in this age category. This impacts the attitudes and participation patterns of this generation, as they exhibit lower scores in nearly all examined areas of political participation (Figure 1).
- The European Youth Forum (EYF) is a platform for youth-led organisations in Europe which is funded by Erasmus + and the Council of Europe. The goal of the EYF is to represent young people, where they will be treated equally as citizens, and empowered to realise their full potential as global citizens. According to the EYF, young people tend to be ambassadors of a powerful change, noting the current uncertainty in political and social matters affecting them.
- The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) has promoted democracy for everyone since 1989 by supporting and closely collaborating with the initiatives of the United Nations. Additionally, the IPU collaborates with international non-governmental and intergovernmental organisations, that share the same values and regional inter-parliamentary groups based in those countries.
- The Council of Europe supports political, legislative, and constitutional reform, additionally aiming to maintain democratic stability in Europe with its three core values: integrity, respect and professionalism. These objectives are to be reached through discussions regarding agreements and concerns in economic, social, legal or administrative matters, further cultivating human rights and freedom. The council also funds the EYF and other platforms for young active citizens.
- EU40 represents under-40-year-old members of the European Parliament, and their endeavours to improve their role. The network, nevertheless, includes key people from the European Commission and the Council. EU40 strives to create synergies between politicians and industries while emphasising most areas that are relevant to the current political climate. A partnership between EU40 and the European Youth Parliament of Italy for the 92nd International Session of Milan was also established in 2021, thus showcasing an example of its collaboration with non-governmental youth organisations.
- The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) provides impartial, evidence-based assistance to EU and national decision-makers, assisting in the improvement of fundamental rights discussions, policies, and legislation. The recent FRA’s Fundamental Rights Survey gathered respondents’ experiences, attitudes, and opinions related to human rights. However, the survey indicates a lack of political participation3 among young people.
Legal Framework/Measures already in place
The FRA produced a report in 2017 which puts forward the requirements and age limits in Member States concerning citizens’ political participation. The majority of Member States require candidates to be at least 18 years old to stand for office. The report also points out inconsistencies, gaps in protection, and limitations resulting from various age thresholds. The issue of less youth activism is already acknowledged in the EU Youth Strategy 2019-2027. It supports the social and civic engagement of young people, while also fostering their participation in a democratic society.
The IPU Global Conference of Young Parliamentarians is a platform for young members representing their countries in the United Nations. The meetings are held annually, targeted at discussing, knowledge-sharing, and identifying ways and strategies towards youth empowerment. Furthermore, a delegation of four young MPs (under the age of 45) from each national parliament are invited to attend the conference. These conferences aim to promote solidarity, and intergenerational support, as well as mobilise parliamentarians of all ages for youth empowerment, by focusing on various themes. In line with the Paris Agreement, young parliamentarians from around the world gathered in the last meeting to discuss the climate crisis.
The Young Elected Politicians Programme (YEP) unites politicians in the EU who have been elected at the regional or municipal level and are under the age of 40. Each year, a call for applications to the programme is released. Through the programme, YEPs will have the chance to connect with other young politicians, take part in training regarding issues the EU is facing, and take part in activities run by the European Committee on Regions (CoR). Nevertheless, the YEP encourages local and regional politicians to share practices; assists those areas in grasping and embracing opportunities provided by the EU and gives young people the chance to be involved in the legislative process. With the creation of the YEPcommunity.eu, young elected EU lawmakers have the possibility to network with fellow politicians.
In 2021, the IPU launched a campaign called I Say Yes to Youth in Parliament!, which has been promoted in fifteen countries4 so far. It urges policymakers to take action so that there are more young people serving in parliaments. The campaign’s foundations are goals that young legislators recognised as the most effective means of bringing about dramatic change – supporting youth channels in parliament, empowering young members of parliament, mentoring young aspirants, and advocating for youth involvement, while also aligning the voting age[efn_note]Voting age is a legal minimum age that a person must reach in order to be able to vote in a public election.[/efn_note] with the qualifying age5.
Young people all around the world are not waiting to be heard. Instead, they insist on claiming their space, fighting for change, and giving back to their communities, despite the numerous obstacles that prevent them from entering and actively participating in official political settings. Arguably, a paradox in legislation exists – although young people have a right to run for public office and contribute to decision-making, the laws prevent them due to age discrimination.
Lack of trust
One of the barriers to youth representation is the lack of trust in the younger generation. The adult-centric belief that the opinions or skills of younger people are underdeveloped and a bias that young people are uninterested are likely to be the two most prevalent factors. Therefore, this may result in an absence of access to structures that are already in place. Youth participation necessitates the creation of platforms for young people to voice their opinions as well as the commitment of decision-makers to hear them out and consider them. To ensure that their engagement in the process is meaningful, young people require focused help from youth workers, facilitators, or even their peers.
contradiction in the legal system
The majority of commonly used definitions are based on Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. That very convention acknowledges the right of young people to have their opinions taken into consideration when decisions are made that impact their life. Other definitions focus on the decision-making process that young people can participate in and affect. However, encouraging youth engagement should go beyond simply upholding their fundamental right to take part in and influence public decision-making. Young people often do not get a voice in politics. As the notion exists that they are too young or apathetic to participate, despite opportunities, it can quickly become a derogatory exercise. Additionally, it has significant positive effects on community democracy6, which may extend from the young people working on a particular project to the larger society.
the perspective of young people
Young people are prevented from participating effectively in the democratic process since they feel they lack the political skills necessary to take part in institutional politics. This leads to the second factor, which concerns the circumstances and resources considered crucial to politicisation. There is reason to assume that with digital media, the generational participation gap may be closed and that young people may get more involved in politics. Despite a sharp increase in young adults’ use of social media and the research showing that social media use encourages offline political participation, the gap in voter turnout between young adults and older generations has not narrowed.
Lack of knowledge or access to political resources
Schools ought to encourage students to engage in social, civic and political discussions in their classrooms, to express their opinions and listen to, or explore various perspectives. In return, students would be able to develop greater political interest, trust, and knowledge, increasing the likelihood of their political participation in the future. Such a curriculum would contribute to improving students’ values and critical thinking in addition to their knowledge and abilities, giving them the freedom to engage in civic and political matters. Moreover, the disconnect shows great numbers regarding understanding the EU: 41% of respondents in a survey believe they either understand nothing or very little about their national governments. Lastly, language and culture are important factors as well. As a result, many with the greatest potential to benefit from participation are excluded, such as migrants, young people, or people with disabilities. It is also difficult to determine the best communication methods and styles to spark their interest.
The Westminster Foundation for Democracy has announced a three-year programme in collaboration with young people in the Middle East and North Africa aimed at addressing youth inclusion in the region and encouraging their political participation. The programme is designed to address this inclusion in policy-making and oversight processes in Algeria, Lebanon and Morocco.
To target the given issue of this topic and further develop the plans, these must also be following suggestions that are specific to each Member State, and incorporate them into its response and recovery strategy. Therefore, these recommendations frequently include promises to young people and future generations that are governed by the EU Youth Guarantee. Moreover, a study of the policies adopted across 34 OECD nations accompanies those proposals for Member States in order to ensure a just, inclusive, and resilient recovery for young people through a variety of public governance approaches. Young people are being given a voice on issues related to sustainable development through the Future Mentors Programme. More than twenty European cities participate in the program, where young people take the role of mentors, leaders, and decision-makers. These aspiring mentors of the programme have the opportunity to attend the programme together with the delegation from their city as it also establishes a link between youth and local leaders. According to one of the participants, the programme aims to further empower and inspire other young people across Europe.
- European Year of Youth – an article regarding 25 young active citizens who are selected to partake in the Overseas Countries and Territories Youth Network of the EU.
- National Youth and Women’s Parliament to boost knowledge and confidence of future leaders – to encourage participation in national politics, Tonga hosted its women’s and youth parliamentary meetings in 2021.
- Not Too Young To Run – tells about an activist movement in Nigeria which is working towards engaging youth in politics and giving them their voice.
- Cardiff Young Citizens Panel launches to engage young people on key local developments – a panel set up in Cardiff, which allows citizens between 11 and 25 to voice their opinions on local issues.
- Voice to the youth: Political participation in the EU and beyond – an article that gives further insight into the most recent successes and additions to youth engagement in the political field.