1 BOLD ACTIONS ARE NEEDED IN CHALLENGING TIMES
We are living in times of tremendous technological change, rising social conflicts, persistent youth unemployment, and hence increasing disaffection for traditional democratic parties. This creates strong challenges for our political system, which has been unable to adapt to the changes of society. We, as progressives, must ensure that we do not let the enemies of democracy take us down the wrong path, leading to costly mistakes that would hit the most vulnerable the hardest.
Over the course of the past few years, in the aftermath of the economic crisis, that continues to affect Europeans societies, young people have voiced their anger and frustration about the austerity measures and the current gap between politicians and the needs of people. European political leaders and parties need to act with increased efficiency, transparency and accountability, delivering long-lasting results. This is how we address the real demands and the real needs of European citizens and account for the troubling signals we are receiving from all corners of Europe.
It is true that the political context in which the European Union operates is a troubling one. The challenges that lie at our borders, and the inability to tackle global challenges such as inequality, poverty, malnutrition and climate change, are strengthened by disregard for long-established international principles, for the rule of law and for those values which underpin the foundation of the EU. These are responsible for tragedies happening on a scale unforeseen in the past decades. It is true that the increasingly globalized world remains a dangerous and volatile environment, and it is not an easy challenge for Europe to tackle these challenges.
But Europe and its citizens have managed to overcome dire circumstances before:
- by opening and increasingly improving the democratic nature of their political systems;
- by playing out the advantages of democracy;
- by proactively engaging with the democratic forces both within and outside Europe’s borders;
- by clinging to the very principles that define our shared European identity;
- by offering a vision of togetherness, solidarity and equality, and unconditionally living, communicating and working with respect to these values.
2 FOUR OBJECTIVES FOR EUROPE’S YOUTH
Remaining true to our democratic ideals and principles, remaining committed to the values of equality, opportunity, openness and social inclusion, we believe that present challenges can be overcome. We can build a stronger and fairer economy, create jobs for Europe’s youth now, harness the digital potential of Europe, construct greener cities and a more sustainable and open society.
2.1 BUILDING A STRONGER AND FAIRER ECONOMY
The economic model our society has come to increasingly rely upon is failing on numerous levels. Not only has the relentless drive for profit and the systemic encouragement of increasingly risky ventures been unable to deliver the welfare it was supposed to achieve, but the characteristics of our economic system are responsible for the greatest crisis since the Great Depression. Our economy has fostered record levels of inequality, a constant decrease of living standards and persistent and long-term unemployment. Moreover, the chimera of unending economic growth has managed to create an economic system that primarily benefits a small minority, and is in a large part responsible for climate change. This is why taking bold steps towards creating a circular economy is a priority – the fundamentals of our economy need to be altered in order to create a sustainable and fair society.
At the same time, we need to move away from the increasingly quantitative and statistic-dominated manner of enacting economic policies. If anything, focusing only on indicators such as economic growth and gross domestic product is an unreliable and misleading instrument. The past years have showed us that it is possible to resume economic growth, even at modest rates. Achieving economic growth however is not enough unless we also act against the inequality in our societies, against social exclusion, poverty and persistent unemployment. We need new instruments in the drafting of economic policies, not only because of their limited efficiency, but because the way we do business has become part of the problem and leaves us unable to account for the transformations which occur in the real world. We need our economic policies to close gaps between the people instead of creating new divides. We need to move towards quality-oriented economic growth which implies a development plan designed to help build a fair, just and inclusive society.
2.2 DECENT JOBS FOR YOUTH
The situation of young Europeans is probably the most difficult, because, to a large extent, it is young Europeans who have been the casualty of the economic crisis. Long-term unemployment affects our young people, whose unemployment rate has reached 19th century levels in some cases. Dramatic and bold action is needed in order to ensure employment for the future generations. Broader and more courageous initiatives, such as the Youth Guarantee and the European Initiative for Youth are needed to support young people searching for their first jobs in a very harsh economic climate.
Young Europeans support the development of competences through education, paid apprenticeships and life-long learning, and believe this is one of the steps we should take in order to create jobs in the sectors that have to make Europe competitive.
Decades of policies meant to roll back the state, to emphasize the efficiency of trickle-down economics, of dismantling the social services (such as education and healthcare) have left the youngest generations of Europeans precarious. The recent Millenial Dialogue study, conculsively points out that young Europeans support stronger political systems and no longer believe the validity of many assertions of neoliberal economy.
2.3 ACHIEVING THE POTENTIAL OF NEW TECHNOLOGIES
An increasing number of European citizens is mistrusting European institutions. There is a general blurring of political borders that favors the rise of populist and extremist political groups. At this time, it is our duty as progressives to set again the language of the debate in Europe. For too long we have ignored the consequences of the technological revolution, and for too long we have ignored the opportunities brought by new technologies to enhance dialogue between institutions and their citizens.
Acknowledging the potential of new technologies is essential. We need to understand that these developments have produced real social change. Politics must adapt to the new social patterns and to the manner in which they have altered our reality. Moreover, while representative democracy remains the bedrock of our political organization, the new technologies have the potential of increasing transparency, fostering a larger and more consistent public participation.
We must ensure that the digital revolution reaches every European, and that internet access and digital connectivity is considered a right for all European citizens. Digital education needs to be prioritized for young and less young generations alike.
2.4 A MORE SUSTAINABLE SOCIETY AND GREENER CITIES
Congestion, pollution, quality of living, are only some of the most severe problems our societies are facing, with dire social and health effects.
As the shortcomings and unsustainability of the linear economy have become increasingly clear, the need for politicians, civil society and the scientific community to work together for real sustainable alternatives has become essential.
Building a more sustainable society implies that decision makers take into consideration the need for stronger environmental policies. This implies that the management of our cities and regions should also be made accountable for the long-term sustainability of their action.
We call for the introduction of the circular economy in the European legal framework. The first step is through the education of our youth because it is through our commitment and behavior as citizens that we can encourage a new sustainable approach to development. Nevertheless, it is through incentives directed to European citizens that we, as progressives, write the new chapter of European economy.
3 A MUTUAL COMMITMENT
The future calls for stronger, intelligently targeted progressive policies that can reach out to the youngest generation of Europeans, by listening to their concerns and demands and offering them the place they deserve in tomorrow’s world.
The participants to the School of Democracy commit to a continuous and proactive engagement with the progressive political forces in Europe. We therefore call for more youth participation in politics and the European decision making process, in order to integrate our values and our needs. In the coming months the participants will table concrete policy proposals designed to help young people across Europe and rely on the S&D Group to contribute in supporting our political initiatives.
Above Declaration of the School of Democracy 2016 “Towards the Future” was adopted in Reggio Emilia, Italy, on 22 April 2016