Fostering youth engagement and democratic revitalisation, while addressing inequalities



Picture of Rim-Sarah Alouane
Rim-Sarah Alouane

Legal scholar and commentator, and 2023 European Young Leader (EYL40)

Photo of This article is linked to State of Europe – the festival of politics and ideas.
This article is linked to State of Europe – the festival of politics and ideas.

Click here to learn more.

Show more information on This article is linked to State of Europe – the festival of politics and ideas.

State of Europe is a fixture and a highlight of the European calendar. The reason is simple: it is a forum for today’s top leaders from the worlds of politics, business and civil society, from Europe and beyond, to connect, debate and develop ideas on key policy areas that will define Europe’s future.

The State of Europe high-level roundtable involves sitting and former (prime) ministers, CEOs, NGO leaders, European commissioners, members of parliaments, influencers, artists, top journalists and European Young Leaders (EYL40) in an interactive and inclusive brainstorm – a new way of working to generate new ideas for a new era.

This year’s roundtable will focus all of its attention on deliberating 10 policy choices for a Renewed Social Contract for Europe that will be disseminated ahead of the 2024 European elections and ensuing new mandate. The 10 policy choices will be the result of year-long multisectoral and multi-stakeholder consultations and will take into consideration the voices and opinions of over 2,000 European citizens.

As Friends of Europe progresses on its road towards a Renewed Social Contract for Europe by 2030, State of Europe will provide an opportunity for entrepreneurs, politicians, legislators, corporates, civil society, citizens and thought leaders to brainstorm solutions and ways out of the current polycrisis. The big-ticket items and trends that will demand our attention at this year’s event include: money, debt, hardship, conflict, corruption and elections.

Learn more about State of Europe and this year’s edition, ‘10 policy choices for a Renewed Social Contract for Europe’.

Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part. – John Lewis

In today’s ever-evolving European societies, the vitality of democracy hinges on the active engagement of its youth. This article outlines a comprehensive policy framework aimed at rejuvenating democratic participation among young individuals and nurturing an informed, empowered citizenry. The imperative of this endeavour lies in the recognition that a thriving democracy necessitates the active involvement of its youth, who harbour the aspirations and ideas that will shape the future of Europe. However, while this policy framework emphasises the critical importance of fostering youth engagement and revitalising democracy, it is crucial to acknowledge and address the pervasive issues of inequalities that often impede these goals.

Inequalities in access to quality education, economic opportunities and political representation can disproportionately affect marginalised communities and hinder the participation of young individuals from these backgrounds. To achieve true inclusivity, policies should be designed with a keen awareness of these disparities. Initiatives such as targeted educational support for underserved communities, affirmative action in political representation and equitable access to mentorship programmes can help mitigate these inequalities. It is essential that the democratic revitalisation effort be an inclusive one, ensuring that all young citizens, regardless of their socio-economic background, religion, ethnicity, gender or other factors, have a fair and equal opportunity to actively engage in shaping their democratic future. Addressing these disparities is not only a matter of social justice but also a fundamental requirement for the strong and sustainable development of democratic societies.

To instil a sense of civic duty and responsibility from an early age, educational curricula must integrate decision-making processes

Empowering youth in civic gatherings

This policy framework is based on the idea that young people should be empowered to participate in civic activities. To achieve this, governments and civil society organisations should create accessible and inclusive platforms for youth engagement. These platforms could include youth forums or town hall meetings that focus on issues that are important to young people. By providing these opportunities, societies can ensure that the next generation is actively involved in shaping their future as engaged citizens.

Bridging the gap in political arenas

To bridge the gap between political leadership and youth, structured dialogue mechanisms must be established. Youth advisory councils, made up of diverse young people from various backgrounds, whether social, economic or other, can be formed at the local, regional and national levels. These councils would meet regularly with political leaders, including local and high-level ones, such as prime ministers, presidents of parliaments, national and supranational judges, members of the European Parliament and so forth, to discuss policies, legislation and governance. This direct interaction provides a platform for young citizens to express their viewpoints and influence decision-making, ensuring that their voices are heard and respected.

Comprehensive civic education

To equip young individuals with a deep understanding of democratic principles, structures, governance and comparative political systems, comprehensive civic education is paramount. This entails a revamped curriculum that incorporates not only the theory but also the practical aspects of democracy. Students should engage in debates, mock elections and civic projects that immerse them in real-world democratic processes. This proactive approach ensures that the youth are not passive observers but informed participants in the democratic arena.

Inclusive decision-making in education

To instil a sense of civic duty and responsibility from an early age, educational curricula must integrate decision-making processes. Role-playing exercises should be incorporated to simulate democratic decision-making scenarios. Students can actively participate in school and community governance, experiencing firsthand the complexities of budget allocation, infrastructure development and policy choices. This practical engagement prepares them for responsible citizenship and fosters an understanding of the intricate dynamics of governance.

This collaborative effort between the public and private sectors not only strengthens democracy but also promotes social cohesion and unity

Lowering the voting age for local elections

Drawing inspiration from models in Austria, Malta, Belgium, Greece and Germany, lowering the voting age implies a commitment to fostering early civic engagement. Local governance directly impacts communities, and by allowing young citizens to participate in local elections, we encourage them to take an active interest in the development and well-being of their neighbourhoods and communities. This initiative cultivates a sense of responsibility and civic awareness among young voters.

Diversity and inclusivity training

Ensuring a truly representative and inclusive political landscape demands the implementation of diversity and inclusivity training programmes for political representatives. Training modules should encompass gender sensitivity, cultural competency and intergenerational understanding. By equipping political leaders with these skills, we pave the way for more inclusive policy-making processes that reflect the diverse needs and aspirations of the entire population.

Moreover, the private sector also has a role to play in supporting and participating in diversity and inclusivity training initiatives. Businesses can implement inclusive hiring practices, diversity training for their employees and outreach programmes aimed at fostering understanding and cooperation among diverse communities. By partnering with the private sector in these endeavours, we can create a more inclusive and equitable society, where all voices are heard and valued. This collaborative effort between the public and private sectors not only strengthens democracy but also promotes social cohesion and unity, ensuring that democratic renewal is a shared responsibility.

Mentorship and support initiatives

Mentorship programmes play a pivotal role in guiding and nurturing young citizens in their civic journey. Experienced mentors, including youth workers and community leaders, can provide valuable insights, offer guidance and share their own experiences in civic engagement. These programmes should have clear, measurable outcomes to ensure that mentors actively contribute to the development and empowerment of the next generation of leaders.

Engaging immigrant communities

Incorporating citizens from foreign immigrant backgrounds into the educational process is crucial. These individuals can serve as educators and mentors, helping immigrants navigate the intricacies of the democratic system in their host country. By fostering a sense of belonging and providing newcomers with the knowledge and tools to engage in civic life, we promote integration and active participation in the democratic process.

We can ensure that the flame of democracy burns brightly

Engaging diverse public figures

Organising events in public schools featuring public figures, such as celebrities, athletes, journalists, writers, artists, scientists, lawyers and human rights activists, or individuals who have experienced war, authoritarianism, the effects of climate change or social upheaval, offers invaluable and sorely needed perspectives on the importance of democracy and civic engagement. These individuals can share their personal stories, highlighting the consequences of political apathy and the transformative power of active citizenship. Such events serve as powerful motivators, inspiring young citizens to engage in democratic processes with a heightened sense of purpose.

Civic engagement strategy

Finally, it is essential to implement a comprehensive civic engagement strategy that encompasses three key components:

  • Civic education through organisations. Collaborate with organisations such as scouts to integrate civic education into their programmes, focusing on democratic principles, community service and leadership training. This will instil a strong sense of citizenship and responsibility in young participants from an early age.
  • Internship opportunities in political institutions. Establish internship programmes within local, national and supranational political institutions to provide young individuals with firsthand exposure to policymaking and governance. Interns will actively contribute to legislative processes, research policy issues and interact with elected officials, demystifying the political system and making it more accessible to young citizens.
  • Sustained engagement with politicians. Create opportunities for young citizens to effectively engage with political representatives, including regular town hall meetings, dialogues and open forums. These platforms will enable young individuals to interact with elected officials, hold them accountable for their actions and foster a culture of political responsibility and active citizenship.

In conclusion, these policy recommendations represent a comprehensive approach to reinvigorating democracy through youth engagement while recognising and addressing inequalities. By empowering young citizens, revamping civic education, fostering inclusivity mitigating disparities, nations can harness the untapped potential of the next generation. By collectively working towards a more inclusive and equitable democratic future, we can ensure that the flame of democracy burns brightly, inspiring generations to come with the promise of a more fair and just society for all. It is through these efforts that we shape not only our present but also the legacy we leave for future generations, inviting them to embrace the values of democracy and active citizenship with hope, determination and unwavering commitment.

The views expressed in this #CriticalThinking article reflect those of the author(s) and not of Friends of Europe. This article follows the European Young Leaders (EYL40) seminar in Dublin, Ireland, which convened a panel discussion that delved into the pressing issues of democracy, civic engagement and the role of youth in shaping the future. The panellists, who came from diverse backgrounds including politics, academia and civil society, discussed the growing disconnect between politicians and the public, particularly youth. The conversation was marked by a sense of urgency, as the panellists acknowledged the decline in civic participation and the challenges posed by disinformation and disengagement.

Related activities

view all
view all
view all
Track title


Stop playback
Video title


Africa initiative logo