Democracy: the cornerstone of a free society

// Text already published on the 3rd of June in YO!Mag, online magazine of the European Youth Forum.

Nowadays, who is not democrat? Raise your hand. You may ask: What is it today to declare yourself to be a democrat when everyone is a democrat? We, Young Democrats for Europe, put democracy at the core of our engagement. Democracy is not, and shouldn’t be, a punctual event in our citizenship. Democracy isn’t a regular exercise to maintain power for a few, but a constant way of life, a constant effort, for all of us. Democracy is a shield to protect our way of life. A shield we should protect in return when it’s being attacked.

“The pacific and daily fight”

For us, democracy is more than a simple method of government, it is a spirit embracing the values of liberty and humanism. Democracy is to be governed by rules you decide upon, it is equality, equal participation of all, and human dignity. It is the possibility of enlightened deliberation and decision-making. Democracy, autonomy and human rights go hand in hand.

Therefore, democracy should be preserved and defended. When populism is playing with our fears, when politicians are overreacting to crises and issues which should be approached with seriousness, ethics, and professionalism, it revives the destructive idea that democratic regimes are weak, that a strongman is needed in order to govern a society. In Europe, the rise of authoritarianism is worrying. Our fears work like a time machine which can only send us back in time. We are on the frontline of democratic defence. And we are calling on all citizens to be part of this pacific and daily fight for democracy.

But democracy should not only be defended, it should be enhanced. There is more to do to increase political participation, democratic control and direct decisions from citizens, especially with the new possibilities offered by the digital age. Education plays a key role in giving citizens the ability to take part in civic life.

We apply this aspiration for democracy, to the entity that we seek to defend and to expand, the European Union. We want a more democratic union and we want the union to protect democracy. We do not mingle our voice with those who picture the EU as an undemocratic institution. Democracy is undoubtedly present in the EU, in the Parliament, directly elected by the people, the Council, gathering members elected by the people, and in the Commission, whose leadership is decided by the former two institutions. Nonetheless, the EU still has progress to make in terms of increasing transparency, strengthening the role of the Parliament, and opening new channels for grassroots participation. We strongly support these developments.

Furthermore, we want a tougher EU when it comes to democracy in its own land. Countries that threaten the rule of law, constitutionalism or freedom of opinion should be quickly monitored and, if needed, sanctioned. It is important to our credibility and the promise we made to the people of Europe and the rest of the world.

Far from being an overrated value, we believe democracy to be the cornerstone of a free society and a peaceful world, and its defence to be of paramount importance.

Mathieu Camescasse and Vincent Delhomme

Young people demand the election of the President of the European Commission remains democratic

Statement from political party youth organisations on discussions by Heads of EU Member States to block the “Spitzenkandidaten” process of electing the President of the European Commission.

The 2014 European elections were the first time voters were able to have a say on who should run the European Commission, with the five main European political parties putting forward candidates who became known by the German term “Spitzenkandidaten”. The main European political party youth organisations have strongly defended this democratic system following reports that almost all EU Heads of States or Government are planning to revert to the previous system, under which they decide on the President behind closed doors.

The European Union is facing challenges on multiple levels, and clear European leadership is essential if Europe is to act cohesively to solve its existential issues. It is vital, therefore, for the EU’s future that it strives to be ever-more democratic and transparent. The process of European elections determining the next President of the Commission has been a hugely positive step in empowering citizens to choose the direction of the EU, adding transparency and more democratic legitimacy to the process. Reversing this would be a regressive step in the democratising trend that has been ongoing in the EU for several decades, especially at a time when the citizens already feel that the EU lacks legitimacy.

The Spitzenkandidaten process gave a face to European leaders. It helped to open up EU democracy, which often seems to be very distant from citizens, especially for young people. In 2014, the European Youth Forum, along with the University and City of Maastricht and Euronews, organised the first-ever televised debate between these Spitzenkandidaten. This debate, broadcast live to millions of viewers, focused on youth issues. Over the course of the elections, the Spitzenkandidaten process contributed to bigger media coverage and, in several Member States, it stopped the tendency of continuously decreasing participation rates.  A regressive move back to the old system would risk further alienating voters, particularly young voters, who are often sceptical of engaging in traditional politics. To secure more popular support, the European Union needs to be more democratic, not less.

It is in the interest of our national leaders to support the continuous opening up of European democracy. Therefore we demand that they follow the recent call from the European Parliament to secure and develop the Spitzenkandidaten process.

After all, is it not better that one of the key leadership positions of the EU is decided on by its 500 million citizens rather than just by 28 heads of state?

YFJ – European Youth Forum

YEPP – Youth of European People’s Party

DEMYC- Democrat Youth Community of Europe

FYEG – Federation of Young European Greens

EFAY – European Free Alliance Youth

LYMEC – European Liberal Youth

JEF – Young European Federalists

IFLRY – International Federation of Liberal Youth

IUSY – International Union of Socialist Youth

YES – Young European Socialists

YDE – Young Democrats for Europe

AEGEE-Europe – European Students’ Forum

Young Democrats for Europe (YDE)
Jeunes Democrates Europeens (JDE)
YDE is the youth wing of the European Party.We embrace the key role of democratic principles, underlined in the Lisbon Treaty and shrined in our political belief: democracy, freedom, equality, participation, sustainability and solidarity.

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