The European Youth Convention and the constitutional debate
Alicja Magdalena Herbowska
The European Youth Convention was a three day event that brought together 210 representatives from 28 countries. Our presence in Brussels was part of a wide consultation exercise through which the Convention on the future of Europe decided to fulfil the Laeken challenge of bringing "citizens, and primarily the young, closer to the European design and the European institutions". As any large scale international event, the Youth Convention wasn´t without it´s shortcomings: there were widespread fears that the event would prove to be just a publicity stunt; there was the controversy over the strength and the role of the youth organisations present, the allegations that what was supposed to be a fresh approach to the European project turned into an exercise not so different from the usual European politicking´. Even the choice of the hotel we stayed in provoked outrage... However, looking back on the event we can say that although we might have not escaped the usual pitfalls of participatory democracy, we have produced a document in which we expressed ideas that proved not to be very different to the ones that found themselves in the senior´ Convention´s proposals for a constitutional treaty. Several different constitutional drafts have since originated form various institutions. I will concentrate here on the Convention´s proposals so far regarding the future European constitution and on how the Youth Convention´s proposals found (or not) their place in the proposed draft. It would perhaps be a little too arrogant to assume that our demands were directly translated into the Convention´s proposals. It is reassuring, however, to see that most of what we thought important was also considered as such by the Convention. What follows is a short analysis of the importance of the Youth Convention´s input to the Future of Europe´ debate.
We saw Europe as more than a technocratic or economic concept´: a political community with common values, a basis for a united and peaceful continent. We envisaged a Europe of tolerance, openness and inclusiveness, built on the fundamental values of peace, freedom, dialogue, equality, solidarity and respect for human rights and based on the principle of equality among member states. This vision is also shared by the Convention when it states in Article 2 of its draft that the Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights, values which are common to the Member States. Its aim is a society at peace, through the practice of tolerance, justice and solidarity.
We postulated the creation of a true European citizenship, seen as complementary to the national one. Article 7 of the constitutional draft states that every national of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union. Citizenship of the Union shall be additional to national citizenship; it shall not replace it. All citizens of the Union, women and men, shall be equal before the law. The rights and duties of European citizens are also listed.
A Europe of welfare and of equal opportunities
We saw social rights as basic and part of a European citizenship. We postulated the development of common legislation in the fields of social policy and equal opportunities as well as common strategies to combat long-term unemployment. Article 3 of the draft deals precisely with these problems. It is also stated in the draft that the Member States shall coordinate their national employment policies within the Union.
We advocated that the Charter on Human Rights be legally binding and become the first chapter of a European constitution. Article 5 of the draft states that the Charter of Fundamental Rights shall be an integral part of the Constitution and will be set out either in the second part of, or in a Protocol annexed to, the Constitution.
Competencies, institutions and policy
Perhaps the most satisfying in terms of fulfilling our demands are the provisions about the division of competencies between the Member States and the Union. We expressed the view that there should be a catalogue of exclusive competencies of the EU and of competencies shared between the EU and member states, and that it should be clearly stated that all the other competencies belong to the member states. Articles eight to fifteen of the constitutional draft deal precisely with that. The subsidiarity principle so often referred to in the Youth Convention´s document has also been guaranteed. It remains to be seen whether our very detailed propositions regarding the reform of the institutions will be used in the draft, but our principle of giving legal personality to the Union has been guaranteed by Article 4.
Union membership and relationships with neighbours
When it comes to the Union´s relationship with neighbouring countries, both the Youth and the senior´ Conventions agreed on privileged relations with those countries. As to our open approach to enlargement, the general rules of accession have been spelt out in Article 43.
Europe in the globalised world
The senior Convention clearly agreed with our view that the European Union must work for peace, democracy, human rights, disarmament and development across the world. Whether our idea of the EU states speaking with one voice in international institutions and of having its own representation in the United Nations that would replace the national ones will find it´s place in the draft remains to be seen.
Areas where we seem to have been much more demanding than the senior´ Convention are: the reform of the pillar structure, the environment, the Union´s finances, defence and AIDS treatment. Our specific demands in these areas included merging the three pillars, banning the use of nuclear energy and supporting the use of renewable forms of energy, an EU-wide environmental tax, a common capital gains tax and a tax on energy consumption, the creation of a European army, a single Commissioner for Foreign Affairs and EU approved measures to facilitate the production and distribution of generic drugs against AIDS.
Youth policy and education
Perhaps most disappointing for the Youth Convention delegates is the way in which the Convention document deals with issues relating most directly to young people. Not surprisingly, we considered education an important force for innovation and empowerment. We saw it as our task, as the Union´s task, to ensure free education for all and to ensure training opportunities. One of the most important task of the Union in this area was, according to us, to overcome the obstacles to the recognition of diplomas and professional qualifications. Disappointingly, the draft only envisages culture, professional training and youth as areas of supporting action for the Union. We also called for a coherent European youth policy, giving clear answers to issues specific to young people. We demanded that Europe have a clear vision on education, the information society, intercultural youth exchange, youth employment and the everyday problems of marginalised young people´, because this is what we, the youth of Europe, need the European Union for. We called on the Convention to include a stronger reference on youth in the constitution, so that youth issues are taken more seriously. This is perhaps the biggest task ahead of us: to strive for the recognition of the specific needs of the European youth but also of the role we can play in the European project. The current developments in world politics have shown that after a long period of being politically dormant young people across the continent are ready to play a much active role in shaping the world they live in. The future of Europe we are discussing here is our future and therefore we should take active part in constructing it. I would like to take this opportunity to repeat the appeal that can be found in the conclusion of our document: that the Convention present us with a report on how our demands have been incorporated into the draft treaty and that the final draft be subject to consultation with us. The Youth Convention should not be a single event but an ongoing process allowing young Europeans to have their say in the construction of the future of the European Union.
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