Reinforce the participation of young people in democratic life -…

Justification for objective selection

Participation is a fundamental (human) right, protected by the United Nations and included in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 12). It involves the process of engaging young people in decisions and institutions that affect their lives. Through active participation, young people are empowered and have a vital role both in their personal development and in the development of the communities they live in. In addition, through participation, the social inclusion of young people is promoted; social exclusion is fought and intergenerational ties are strengthened. Ensuring the participation of young people is critically important for the sound functioning of our democracies and for the sustainability of policies that have an impact on the lives of young people.

Participation in democratic life has at least four different dimensions:

  • Participation in existing institutions of representative democracy, such as participation in electoral processes (e.g. the exercise of voting rights) as well as participation in political parties, local and national parliaments, local youth councils, youth parliaments, etc.
  • Participation beyond official political institutions, such as participation in social movements, political protest actions (e.g. demonstrations, etc.), campaigns on specific issues, consumer actions (e.g. boycotting products or companies), etc. As scientific research shows at international level, young people seem to increasingly prefer such alternative forms of political participation over traditional and formal forms of political action.
  • Participation in civil society organizations and volunteer activities. Participation in such organizations and activities is complementary to political participation and demonstrates the level of integration of young people into a society.
  • Offline and online participation. Without doubt, the expansion of wireless communication and social media has given a new impetus to young people’s participation. Access to information and ideas coupled with the organizational and mobilization capabilities offered by new technology, have greatly empowered young people. As empirical evidence shows, social media tools increase the chances of young people being involved in political discussions and consultations – especially in the case of ‘mature democracies’ – so their role needs to be given special attention as it appears to be a prime action field for young people.

In any case, this culture of democratic participation needs to extend beyond the formal political process in order to be truly embedded by young people. As Pateman says, “[t]he existence of representative institutions at national level is not sufficient for democracy; for maximum participation by all the people at that level, socialization or ‘social training’ for democracy must take place in other spheres in order that the necessary individual attitudes and psychological qualities can be developed”. That is why, as we will see below, the promotion of participation can be based on a variety of different actions and initiatives, implemented at different levels and environments.

Finally, we should note that, promoting youth participation has been one of the European Union’s main priorities since 2001 when, through the White Paper on Youth, a stable framework for its formal integration into the definition policies for young people was introduced at European level for the first time. Besides, political and civic participation constitute one of the five main areas of youth development based on the goals for sustainable development as set by the United Nations.

Sub-objective 5.1: Increase youth representation in the institutions of representative democracy and civil society organizations.
Sub-objective 5.2: Increase young people’s participation in volunteer organizations and voluntary activities.
Sub-objective 5.3: Develop mechanisms for dialogue and consultation with young people – participation of young people in the decision-making processes and structures on issues affecting them, at local, national and European level.
Sub-objective 5.4: Promote the participation of young people with fewer opportunities (e.g. young immigrants, young Romani, young people living below poverty line, etc.) and young people under-represented in political life and civil society organizations, also taking gender into account.
Sub-objective 5.5: Developing new forms of participation in democratic processes, with particular emphasis on e-participation and the role of social media.

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