Event Summary – “Shaping Democratic Resilience in the European Union: The Future of European Democracy in the Eyes of Citizens”
This public event, "Shaping Democratic Resilience in the European Union: The Future of European Democracy in the Eyes of Citizens" was held on November 15th, 2023 in Vienna, Austria. Attendees listened, offered questions, and participated in a real-time online opinion poll on the topic of challenges to European democratic resilience.
Several speakers were invited to share their perspectives. After welcoming remarks from Paul Pasquali from Raiffeisen International Bank, and Friedrich Faulhammer, Chairman of IDM, Vladislava Gubalova, Senior Fellow at GLOBSEC, presented the key findings from the recent study: Young Minds, Democratic Horizons: Paving the Way for the EU’s Promising Future Attitudes of Young People from Austria, Greece, Ireland and Slovakia. Later on, Elena Avramovska from the Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung; Helfried Carl from the European Capital of Democracy; Wilhelm Molterer, Chairman of GLOBSEC; and Nini Tsiklauri, European activist were invited to share their insights into the state and role of democracy in Europe. This panel discussion was moderated by Sebastian Schäffer, Director of IDM.
- The question of democracy is also a question of shifting demography: in the face of an aging population, young people are not only less engaged in politics, but are also seldom the target audience of political campaigning. More must be done to bring young voices into politics. However, the responsibility of upholding European democracy cannot rest with young people alone. Since young people are a minority demographically and in terms of votership, intergenerational cooperation is needed to bring attention to topics important to young people, like climate and digitalization. Political parties should approach young people if they notice their youth participation is low – supporting young political role models can increase youth participation in politics.
- The greatest threats to EU democracy come from within: the rise of populism, right-wing Euroscepticism and potential democratic backsliding can be lessened if people of all ages (but especially young people) are educated not only about politics, but also on media literacy. All EU citizens have the responsibility to care about and engage in politics.
- Disappointment is a danger to democratic movements. Young people perceive that more is said than done on the EU level. Idealistic goals with no practical roadmaps for achievement ought to be avoided in favor of more realistic, more concretely achievable goals. Idealism and ambiguity without solutions could generate more counter-movements: both Eurosceptic and antidemocratic in nature. It is imperative that the EU of the future is known for its transparency, unity, and for the practical feasibility of its policies.
- The improvement of regulations on the EU-level will benefit the longevity of European democracy: far more must be done to regulate the spread and use of data, given the overwhelming speed of the digital transformation. Data is a lucrative area of business, but without proper regulation could result in the wild spread misinformation as well as increased income inequalities.
- The longevity of European democracy depends on inclusion: positive opinions on EU democracy should be revived in some communities that may feel left out of definitions of “Europe” or “European,” like people with migrant backgrounds and/or people who do not speak English or EU languages. Many who are active on the EU level share similar perspectives, skills, and even biases, and may therefore leave certain topics unconsidered on a policy-level. Increasing the diversity of perspectives among not only EU policymakers but also among everyday people will certainly strengthen the effectiveness but also the reputation of European democracy.
- Competition can aid democracy: the EU can maintain its democratic reputation while also pursuing competition on the international level. This is something Wilhelm Molterer called “Co-o(m)petition” – a process by which the EU could retains its cooperative core but simultaneously compete with the rising powers by focusing on internal unity as well as external partnerships.
If we want to be a resilient democracy, what is the most important thing to be/do/have?
- Fostering civic education (also in rural areas), strengthening civil society, and teaching media and digital literacy are a must. The more educated do more with their vote to keep nondemocratic politicians out of power and influence.
- The EU must make sure that Russia does not win its war. We ought also to take inspiration from Ukraine, whose democratic and civic systems have been more resilient than Russia or anyone assumed.
- The EU and its democracy will be resilient if and when citizens fight for EU resilience and democracy. Peace, as well as democracy, are key issues, and ought not to be taken for granted.
- The EU must go where young people are – and young people are always consuming media. This could mean the creation of new broadcasting, influencers, media platforms only on EU topics and only from EU citizens. Europe needs its own heroic story, and this story needs to be told.