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Reinventing Democracy in Europe: Youth Doing Politics in Times of Increasing Inequalities

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - EURYKA (Reinventing Democracy in Europe: Youth Doing Politics in Times of Increasing Inequalities)

Reporting period: 2018-02-01 to 2020-01-31

The cross-national research project EURYKA—Reinventing Democracy in Europe: Youth Doing Politics in Times of Increasing Inequalities provided systematic and practice-related knowledge about how inequalities mediate youth’s political participation. It suggested novel democratic models to reimagine European politics in a way that is more inclusive. EURYKA brought together researchers and civil society practitioners from nine European countries: France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. With the aim of strengthening European democratic life, the project was intended to reach a better understanding of the conditions, processes, and mechanisms underpinning how young people participate in politics; that is, the ways in which they form opinions and take actions to bring about social and political change. At the core of EURYKA’s conceptual framework was the idea of youth political participation as a form of coping mechanism for dealing with inequalities. We thus investigated the norms, values, attitudes, and behaviors underpinning such a mechanism and how they relate to issues such as democracy, power, politics, policymaking, social and political participation (online and offline), and the organization of economic, social, and private life. The project showed that young people often face barriers to political engagement because too few existing policies enable and encourage involvement. The project’s overall findings led to a number of policy recommendations specifically targeting young people who have fewer opportunities to be involved in politics.
The EURYKA project undertook the following methodological approaches and research activities. First, we tracked public policies and practices that promote youth participation and inclusion in each country and at the EU level (policy analysis). Second, we studied how media deals with young people and with their approach to politics, and we studied the presence of organized youths in the public domain and the claims they raise for new democratic models and for social and political change in each country (political claims analysis). Third, we investigated youth political participation by examining the networks and youth-led organizations active in the fields of youth inclusion, participation, and national and transnational democratic innovation and experimentation (organizational analysis). Fourth, we disentangled the causes behind various forms of youth political participation to retrieve their norms, values, attitudes, expectations, and behaviours regarding democracy, power, politics, and policymaking. In addition, we examine social and political participation (online and offline); the organization of economic, social, and private life; and the individual characteristics possibly associated with youths (panel survey analysis). Fifth, we tested hypothesized mechanisms that lead to young people’s experiences of inequalities and to their support and for social and political change that could potentially strengthen democratic life, especially mechanisms that may include avenues for reimagining democracy in Europe (experimental analysis). Sixth, we examined the individual trajectories of young people from childhood to investigate how their paths influence their ways of doing politics. In addition, we studied how individual young people in various countries and socio-economic contexts live among and react to inequalities (biographical analysis). Seventh, we investigated youth political participation online and inequalities’ effects on online participation by examining how young people use social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and how digital participation and representation may provide seeds for reinvigorating democracy in Europe (social media analysis).
The EURYKA project was based on a robust comparative, multidimensional, and interdisciplinary research approach designed to conceptually and empirically enhance the understanding of inequalities and of young people’s ways of doing politics. The project generated impacts in at least three areas. First, it provided a critical assessment of current democratic practices to build more inclusive and reflective societies and to reinvigorate democracies across Europe. Second, it empowered young people through participation in knowledge-sharing events such as a summer school, the project priority action roundtables, and the democracy summer camp. Third, the project improved the problem-solving capacity of civil society actors and policymakers by developing policy recommendations for more inclusive and reflective societies and by reinvigorating democracies in young people’s views.

These impacts were achieved through a variety of the project’s research findings. First, young people are least often considered a group that deserves specific policy measures. As a result, they lack institutional opportunities for political participation. Second, young people are most often passive objects rather than active subjects of interventions in the public domain. As a result, they also lack discursive and institutional opportunities for political participation. Third, young people are often sceptical of traditional politics, but many participate in less institutionalized forms. Therefore, there is complementarity rather than substitution between institutional and grassroots politics. Fourth, politically active young people often share their family’s political standpoint, which underscores socialization’s key role in their political engagement. Fifth, active young people often take something positive from political participation. Thus, such participation has a deep, personal impact.

The project’s findings led to policy recommendations, especially those targeting young people with fewer opportunities. First, the participants between 18 and 35 years old have suffered the most of all age groups, from the economic and political crises of the past decade to a need for holistic and generation-specific policy measures to address new inequalities. Second, the younger generations are at a structural disadvantage when participating in politics and in public debate; a diversity of young people should be encouraged to take leading and decisive roles in debates about the future of Europe and the future of politics and society in each country to address this structural disadvantage. Third, even after the worst of the economic crisis has past, young working people will be significantly disadvantaged due to short-term contracts, weaker protection of rights, and weaker unionization. Therefore, policymakers must empower young working people to defend and advance decent working conditions and job security at regional and national levels by prioritising young workers in the European Labour Authority and creating youth ombudsmen. Fourth, young people have successfully placed combatting climate change and protecting the environment at the top of the political agenda, and European democracy has an interest in young people being politically empowered to play a leading and decisive role in how it meets these challenges. Fifth, young people are asking for more and better political and civic education to prepare them to participate equally in politics. European countries and institutions have a strong interest in helping young people practice democracy at school and in civil society organisations while learning about the history of political change.
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