European democracy reloaded (or pruned)

In this blog post, Leonardo De Melo talks about the future of the European Union, primarily for young people who do not remember a time when the Union didn’t exist. Leonardo leads a thoughtful discussion on what future these young people will inherit, particularly concerning education and employment opportunities. Finally, Leonardo discusses the need for Government transparency and openness.

Can Europe deliver on the hopes and aspirations of the young? Dividing people into age groups seems as relevant as doing so by the colour of their eyes. It’s easy to do it, but potentially also meaningless. However, statistically, young people do tend to have more time ahead of them than older ones. With the EU being a long-term project, we should increasingly cater for the yearnings of those that will live in it the longest. Those that, born after the 1980s, do not remember a time before the Union; those that take it for granted; those that feel entitled to its peace and prosperity. So, what will Europe look like, when the youngsters of today take the helm? Will they inherit a Europe that is just more peaceful and prosperous? Or will they take over from renewed schisms, conflicts and segregation? We cannot expect peace and prosperity to be enough. Once our basic survival is assured — and the EU has provided this to millions across the continent—, our reason for living is to be happy. However, some people are diverting from the keystones of the European way: tolerance, openness, diversity, by choosing to engage in the escapism of hate, bigotry and prejudice.We need to understand that no system is perfect and that there are ‘orphans’ of the European project. A few of these do have reasons to feel this way. The majority of these ‘orphans’, however, simply feel vindicated under a state of victimisation, despite leading a comfortable life, based on the conquests of the post-World War II liberal order. It’s true that these disenfranchised citizens are both old and young. But if we look at cases like France, where perhaps this destructive wave is strongest, it’s the young that support populism the most. It’s no longer those who reminisce over a golden era of national pride: it’s the leaders of tomorrow that do not want to embrace a system they do not understand and where they do not feel they belong.

These ‘orphans’ are a small minority. They also have few objective reasons to feel this way. But they do. It’s therefore up to the bridge-builders among us to deliver hope, to reason with them and seduce them into cooperation, from isolation. Into openness from their state of fear. Research shows us that a sense of mental and physical health are young people’s top driver of happiness. Is Europe assuring the young about their access to a healthy lifestyle? Professionally, can they hope for something better than unpaid internships? They also value the relationship with their family and friends. Is Europe still a place that values people over profits? The young also seek fulfilment, not just fair pay, from their work and their studies. Do we value an approach to the job market based on skills and vocations? What about free time? Do education systems promote multiplicity, openness and freedom of choice for students to develop their passions? It’s possible that the answer to the above questions may be a resounding ‘yes’ in some countries across the Union. However, these are not issues that come across as a priority, when looking at Europe’s system of governance. In fact, European democracy looks like an overgrown tree: though it may have strong roots, at the top it’s an impenetrable mess of branches that were never pruned, such was the urge for the tree to grow. It has grown. But now it must take on more human proportions and be accessible to the many, not just those that can interpret the complex networks of power, two seats of parliament and vast amounts of agencies. Those who rightfully want to live here for another 50-60 years demand a transparent government, simplicity and bi-directional engagement with those whose job it is to represent them. Understanding this is key to beating populism and egocentric nationalism, both of which are symptoms which we cannot allow to spread into the core of the European project.

The time is now ripe for the liberal values of open-mindedness, clear speech and accountable action to entrench themselves in mainstream policy-making. These are the demands of a generation that wishes for peace, prosperity, but also happiness. It’s to this generation of digital natives that the Europe of tomorrow belongs to, people who place high hopes in the power of technology as a force for good. This is why leveraging technology to reap social and civic benefits is no longer just an option, it is the obligation of European leaders. And as liberals, it is our duty to carry this vision forward. So, can Europe deliver on the hopes and aspirations of the young? Yes, it can. But to do so successfully, we must replace the messy politics of old with an open, citizen-centric, technology-enabled, responsibility-inducing European state of affairs. Collaboratively, but free from chains, we can reload (or prune) European democracy so it can grow healthily into the future.

Leonardo De Melo

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