After a productive morning and afternoon of discussion and debate from many notable speakers from different backgrounds across Europe, the discussion was opened to the floor for the Interactive Dialogue between the citizens and youth scholars.
The dialogue was hosted by Dr. Helmut Fluhrer, CEO of European Language Technology Group, who introduced the participants: Ms. Natalia Alonso, Oxfam’s Deputy Director of Advocacy and Campaigns, who tries to secure sting responses from the EU regarding pressing environmental and developmental issues; Mr. Adam Nyman, Director of the online platform Debating Europe, which was set up as a vehicle to connect citizens with policymakers in a bid to engage and shape future policies; Mr. Diogo Pinto, Secretary General of the European Movement International, one of the largest pan and pro-European civil society organisations that unites actors from a broad range of European organisations.
The discussion was kicked off by Mr. Adam Nyman who wanted to dispel the myth that “youth are uninterested in politics” and ascertained that the proof was displayed by the 380,000 strong politically engaged young people who use the Debating Europe online portal regularly. Mr. Diogo Pinto added that we need to facilitate communication and we need organisations made of citizens to contribute to effective political dialogue. Ms. Natalia Alonso stated that although getting your voice heard is difficult and can take a long time, real and apparent change is possible and used the example of Oxfam’s land grab campaigns which resulted in huge company like Coca Cola changing their current policy.
Petitioning and contacting European representatives
Dr. Helmut Fluhrer called for youths to actively contact their European representatives while Mr. Adam Nyman added that petitioning is an excellent way to reach and inform as many citizens as possible about certain issues and hold policymakers to account. Ms. Natalia Alonso also described another campaigning success by Oxfam, such as the Robin Hood Tax campaign to tax transactions in the financial services.
Mr. Pinto observed that the progress and harmony that we saw today across Europe that we often take for granted; it was not so long ago that unity between two geographically and ideologically distinct sides of Europe seemed unfathomable whereas we have the situation today with organisations able to retain their autonomy while coming to mutually beneficial solution.
Questions by the Plus Europe [Youth] Forum
The floor then turned to the student scholars who had some burning questions to be answered by the panel. First up was Roger Fernández who asked whether the panel believed that increasing capital and wealth taxes was the key to decreasing the widening inequality gap. Ms. Natalia Alonso gave a shocking fact that 85 people in the entire world own as much as the poorest 3 and half billion and asserted that inequality is bad for business. She suggested that progressive taxes and that penalties on tax avoidance and evasion by rich elites should be made harsher and that funds should be used to distributed education and wealth to invest in our own people and the future.
Anasthasia Karaggiani asked how the faith of young people could be restored in European institutions after some places in southern Europe have youth unemployment of 50%. Mr. Nyman remarked that despite how it was being portrayed in the media, youth unemployment was not a new phenomenon, but insisted that it was still an important issue, since employment and participation in the workforce are essential for active involvement and renewal of society.
Mr. Pinto added that there was not a huge discrepancy between youth and other types of unemployment and said that trust in the EU institutions seemed to be pretty positive as trust levels were at 27% for the EU and although at first these might seem low, these were in fact a lot higher than for the French president who had a confidence level of only 10%.
Mr. Pinto added that behaviours are of greater importance than values and cultural identity, and this was proven by the fact that 50% of the EU’s member states recurrently made up by post communist countries while another great portion had fascist past. He added that values take time to change.
Daniel Sousa asked if the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) with the US could resolve economic and financial crisis in the EU. Mr. Nyman said that this offer was mainly being done behind closed doors and had very little transparency and that European and American values of social, date and environmental protection differed greatly.
Stavroula Tsitaki posed a question concerning what was the most effective means for civil participation in European Democratic governance. The answers from the panel were inspiring, reminding the youth scholars to keep a vision of their individual rights and responsibilities and to be the change they want to see and lead by example.
Finally, it was asked “What will the EU look like in 10 to 20 years from now?”. The response was positive: a place of unity of people and not states, a place of freedom, democracy, diversity and equal rights. Mr. Nyman encouraged the audience to believe in the European vision and live it and that the future of Europe is in our hands. Dr. Fluhrer said that we needed stable foundations for poverty, health and education provision first before we could move on to environmental aims and take opportunity for a global community.