Balkan youth speaks up about digital issues: Lessons for the Conference on the Future of Europe

DISCUSSION PAPER

The train of the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE) left the station last month when the Presidents of the European Commission, European Parliament, and Council finally signed the Joint Declaration that mandates the initiative. The EU-hopeful countries in the Balkans were not formally asked to come aboard. By omitting the region from a process that is potentially decisive for the Union’s future, the EU sabotages the credibility of its enlargement policy towards the Balkans.

The Balkan countries have the know-how to contribute substance and methods as part of the CoFoE. “Make Future Together: EU and the Western Balkans from the Youth Perspective” is one recent experiment in participatory democracy that speaks of the potential of the Balkan countries to add value to the CoFoE. Its methods and results offer the EU best practices and lessons learned, as the project implemented a standardised method in a region-wide exercise.

In this sense, it demonstrated that the Balkans can operate as a microcosm or testing ground for EU initiatives: a model applied successfully in all the countries of the region, which share little in the way of political structures, can be scaled up to a Union of 27 member states.

The project also provides insights into a subject that is crucial for the EU: the impact of the internet and social media on young people’s lives and their socio-political engagement. The input of the young people who joined these consultations suggests not only that the Balkan countries share many of the same views and priorities as the EU. The region can also handle – and, indeed, wants to speak up on – contemporary issues of concern.

This discussion paper, written by Corina Stratulat and Paul Butcher from European Policy Centre – EPC, a Brussels-based think tank, argues that the EU should allow the Balkan aspiring member states to join the Conference process, even if only on a consultative basis.