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Conference: The EU and the Promise of Democracy: What can Citizenship Education and Civil Society contribute? | NECE - Networking European Citizenship Education |

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Conference: The EU and the Promise of Democracy: What can Citizenship Education and Civil Society contribute? 14-16 November 2013, The Hague (The Netherlands)

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    "In our days the task to encourage citizenship seems to be more relevant than ever. I’m sure that all the partners and stakeholders involved in the NECE initiative – like us in ProDemos – feel the urgency of citizenship education in their everyday efforts. Even more so as the crisis all over Europe puts societies under pressure and throws up challenge after challenge for democracy. The European Year of Citizens 2013 underlines the importance of involving people in all our countries in the European project. So there are many reasons to focus in this year`s NECE Conference – which will take place a few months before the EP elections on 22-25 May 2014 – on citizenship education from a European perspective.*

The societal and political debate concerning the future shape of the EU is entering a crucial phase. In the recent hectic years of crisis management more and more decisions have been taken by fewer and fewer co-players in the democratic machine called Europe. According to recent surveys, many citizens now take a critical or even hostile stance towards the European Union, as it seems to have nothing to offer them but austerity and social sacrifices. National and populist feelings demonstrate the extent of a great collective uncertainty in European societies. We believe European Citizenship educators are facing at least two major challenges resulting from this state of the European Union.

Firstly, Europe’s ongoing economic crisis has engendered a crisis of confidence in the European project and the costs and benefits of further European integration. Fewer and fewer citizens are prepared to transfer power and competences to 'Europe'. The democratic deficit of the European Union (once hidden by the 'implicit consensus' of European citizens in the early decades of the EU) has now become more and more visible and contributes to the backlash in support for the EU.
Secondly, the economic crisis is dividing Europe and may ultimately lead to the break up of the EU. Centrifugal forces are pulling European public opinion apart, separating the French from the Germans and the Germans from everyone else. The southern nations of Spain, Italy and Greece are becoming ever more estranged as evidenced by their frustration with Brussels, Berlin and the perceived unfairness of the economic system.

This is where the central questions begin that will be the focus of NECE 2013. “Participation Now!” was the motto of NECE 2012 in Córdoba (Spain), which concentrated on dialogue with grassroot movements of the Arab Spring. With an eye to the elections to the European Parliament in May 2014, NECE 2013 will continue to explore the topics of participation and democratisation and focus on the EU's democratic deficit. However, deploring the democratic deficit in the EU is one thing. Citizenship education, on the other hand, must critically examine its European policy campaigns and projects in terms of their coverage and effectiveness. And it should concentrate more on the criticism and doubts of frustrated European citizens. The conference in The Hague will offer opportunities for a critical debate on four levels:

1. Scenarios and outlines for the future of the EU

We will discuss scenarios for the future of the EU with European experts. Key questions will be the following:

  • What type of a Europe do we want?

  • How do alternative future concepts for the EU look like?

  • What economic and political problems need to be overcome?

  • What will define a ‘European citizen’ of the 21st century?

  • Will transnational spheres of life and experiences such as new mobility and migration patterns create a ‘European identity’? and

  • What role can the EU play in a world that will be mainly defined by non-European states and societies in the next 30 years?

  • How can dialogues and co-operation with the neighbours in the Mediterranean region, in particular North Africa's transformation states, be organised?

2. European civil society and the 'democratic deficit' of the European Union

Key questions will be the following:

  • How can citizenship initiatives and other civil society alliances bring their social and political interests into the political process at the European level?

  • What options will arise as a result of the upcoming European Parliament elections in June 2014?

  • What should be the next steps on the way to a democratisation of the EU?

  • What recommendations and demands are of crucial importance?

3. Role of citizenship education in the European crisis

Key questions will be the following:

  • How can citizenship education contribute to the repoliticization of the European debate and illustrate Europe's plurality?

  • What are the prerequisites?

  • Do we need a common understanding of European citizenship education?

  • Can a transnationally active citizenship education work together with civil society initiatives in order to restore confidence in democracy and help to overcome the democratic deficit?

  • What role is attached to citizenship education by EU institutions and how are young people in particular prepared for their role as EU citizens?

4. Practical approaches and projects of citizenship education

Key questions will be the following:

  • What practical approaches and instruments can be used to broaden the debate surrounding Europe and the crisis and to close the participation gap?

  • How can citizenship education across Europe accompany the elections to the European Parliament?

  • What role will approaches such as Vote Match as a transnational accompaniment to European election campaigns play?

Opportunities to actively take part will be provided in numerous workshops and forums. At the end of the conference, the participants will draw up a public ‘Conference Paper’ comprising recommenda-tions on the topic of democratisation and participation in the EU.

The NECE Initiative invites education specialists, activists from social movements and multipliers from the fields of politics and business to The Hague to discuss and debate the new common responsibilities for citizenship education and civil society in the EU.

ProDemos – House for Democracy and the Rule of Law / The Hague (© ProDemos – House for Democracy and the Rule of Law )

    “(…) The Hague is the hometown of ProDemos (Externer Link: This beautiful city is also the centre of governance in The Netherlands, as well as home to many institutions aimed at improving international justice and peace. I am looking forward to the conference in The Hague, not just for the pleasure of seeing friends, but also first and foremost to learn from the experiences of colleagues coming from countries all over Europe.”*

*quote by Kars Veling, director ProDemos – House of democracy and the rule of law

Here you may find the working draft of the "Interner Link: Conference Paper" that was further improved by integrating participants' comments and suggestions after the NECE Conference in The Hague 2013.

Interner Link: Programme (525 KB)
Interner Link: Report: Citizenship in Europe 2030 (Four Scenarios, 2.221 KB)
Interner Link: Participants (102 KB)
Interner Link: Biographies (1.345 KB)