News Article

Roundtable on the Inter-generational Dialogue for Democracy at the European Committee of the Regions
European Committee of the Regions, Brussels, Belgium

 |   | 

The Office of International IDEA to the European Union facilitated a discussion on how the Inter-Generational Dialogue can boost people’s faith in democracy by exploring ways to bring members of different age groups into the political process, and to find mechanisms for cooperation within democratic governance processes.

In cooperation with Tom Vandenkendelaere, Member of the European Parliament, the Office of International IDEA to the European Union convened a roundtable on Inter-generational Dialogue for Democracy at the European Committee of the Regions in Brussels on 15 November 2016. The event, anchored in a broader initiative to formulate policy recommendations on the topic, was the culmination of two earlier roundtable discussions, which took place in Brussels on 16 November 2015 and 31 May 2016, respectively. Vandenkenlaere provided the key note address, and the Roundtable was moderated by Andrew Bradley, Director of the Office of International IDEA to the EU.

The objective of the meeting was to exchange views on a policy paper, prepared and presented by Tomaž Deželan, Associate Professor at the University of Ljubljana, including recommendations on how to enhance young people’s participation and representation in political life in Europe. Participants also discussed the modalities for a dialogue between generations to build a new solidarity, and to renew the mutual understanding on democracy.

The results of the “Generation What Survey”, an Irish initiative supported by 14 European broadcasters and 10 EU countries, to gauge the feelings of young European citizens on personal life expectations, are quite telling - a majority in most countries agrees that elder people influenced young people’s chances for a bright future, and that large majorities have no interest in membership of political organisations.  These and more results reveal a latent clash between generations.

Democracy is about inter-generational equity

For the first time, the financial situation of the young is worse than of older generations, and marked by an uncertain outlook. Increasing age-segregated social policies lead to discontent, but it also narrows interpersonal trust and the trust in institutions. The pattern of a net-flux from young to old has emerged, instead of the reversed. There is a clear need to correct the financial balance, reset the inter-generational solidarity, and to refresh the duty to care for each other. Generations have a mutual responsibility for this, but the key question is how to create innovative ways to do it.

The year 2016 was marked by elections in which emotions were the main mobilizers of votes, based on concerns about social benefits and an unfavorable economic situation. In this context, it is necessary to improve political participation for a more balanced participation, and to make policies suitable to all age groups. The best way to achieve inclusive participation is to create a mechanism and enabling environment for systematic dialogue and exchanges.

Three main avenues were identified to achieve this - strengthening ties through political governance, promotion of a vision through civic education, and providing an infrastructure to boost inter-generational exchanges. Some of the draft policy recommendations that were discussed during the Roundtable are the following:

  • establishment of inter-generational councils at all political levels to mainstream the inter-generational dialogue;
  • inclusion of quotas for the young and the elderly in political representation;
  • creation of a European Inter-generational Centre, as an observatory;
  • adaptation of the school curriculum, to integrate an inter-generational awareness in the education of the young; and
  • improvement of data-collection for a more evidence-based policy-making.


Role of emotion, bottom-up dialogue and digital solutions

Emine Bozkurt, Member of the International IDEA Board of Advisors,  pointed at the difference in historical experiences, with youth being less respectful towards elderly nowadays, and not so much focused on human rights. A general human rights education is not part of the school curriculum and this may be an important shortcoming. Commenting on the Brexit referendum, Bozkurt questioned what would have happened had there been a bigger role for youth and the elderly in the campaign. The crucial role of emotion is something to bear in mind, and Bozkurt recommended to integrate this aspect in the work of the Inter-generational Dialogue for Democracy.

An Hermans, President, European Seniors’ Union, mentioned the difficulty to recognize oneself in traditional stereotypes of the elderly. According to her, inter-generational differences should be addressed in the same way as diversity related to regions, nationality, religion, etc. Democracy building should therefore adopt a step-by-step approach, starting with an inter-generational assessment of data to enable correct measuring. Hermans expressed a preference for the bottom-up approach, and was reluctant to endorse the creation of new institutions, stating that institutions generally do not bring change in the daily life of people.

Tania Marocchi, Policy Analyst, European Policy Centre, reflected on the question why young people are withdrawing from the electoral process. Is it the representation mechanism that makes young people believe that their votes do not count? Why do young people think that nothing is at stake? Considering the lack of trust of the young in institutions, it should be best to involve NGOs and platforms in advancing inter-generational citizenship norms. A good way to rebalance the political equation is to expand the youth sector of the electorate by lowering the voting age. Marocchi recommended that the Inter-generational Dialogue for Democracy focus more on the role of political parties, and the intra-party dialogue among generational groups.

Andrea Ferrara, Project Manager, AEGEE-Europe,  commented on new technologies and which role ICTs could have in democracy building, especially in relation to the inter-generational perspective. The European Student’s Forum (AEGEE Europe) is working on an initiative, EUth – Methods for Digital and Mobile Youth Participation, to provide an Internet platform on which participatory processes are organized. The objective is to use digital tools for societal issues, and this can be of relevance to the inter-generational dialogue. The tool provides online participation options, such as collaborative text-writing, liquid democracy (by delegation), online consultation and electronic voting.

Strengthening the dialogue for more inclusive participation

Remarks and questions from Roundtable participants on the draft policy brief covered the following:

  • The concept of family is missing, especially on where inter-generational issues meet family structures. The draft policy brief must be more explicit regarding the sharing of power, a crucial but complex and sensitive issue;
  • Low voter turnout should be further balanced by mentioning the influence of populism;
  • Some concerns were raised on the introduction of quotas and the institutionalization of solutions;
  • There is a need to expand more on diversity management, and the modalities for starting the inter-generational dialogue on inclusion at the local level;
  • Young people can benefit from mentorship from the old, and the reverse process is is also valid;
  • The need to create physical and social space for inter-generational exchanges, and
  • Highlighting the role of age-based discriminations in the field of employment, including the related EU measures, and how to develop solutions.

About the Author

Programme Manager
Marilyn Neven

Marilyn Neven's main role is to reinforce International IDEA’s relations with Belgium and with European institutions. Through her work, she aims to enhance the Institute’s profile and visibility at Belgian and European Union level, as well as among democracy actors in Brussels. She contributes to increasing the EU’s focus on democratic governance, including in the implementation of the Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.