The vague Berlin declaration
The Berlin Declaration, signed on March 25 by the presidents of the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament was presented as a tool to re-launch the European integration, giving its successes of the past and with common objectives for the future: nothing could sound more ambiguous, as in the rest of the Declaration there is no practical proposal to fulfil these objectives, starting from the re-launch of the constitutional process, which is mentioned only by fixing the year 2009 as deadline to place the European Union “on a renewed common basis”.
The Berlin Declaration deals with many topics but it does not add anything new to what has already been agreed at the European level, like the recent steps towards a common energy and climate protection policy. The aim of the German presidency was to mention those values and principles which guided the European integration process until now and, on these bases, to find again that common will discouraged from the negative results of the French and Dutch referenda.
Before the Berlin Declaration was public, however, it was possible to foresee its general and deliberately vague traits, given the several requests coming from many Member States with regards to its content: Chancellor Merkel accepted to take out the word “Constitution” so that the UK let her mention the success of the Euro and made reference (twice) to the EU as a “fortune” which unites the European citizens and has to be preserved for future generations.
No rhetoric at the Youth Summit
On the contrary, future generations addressed Europe with no rhetoric, with concrete proposals and giving the governments an important lesson of democracy.
The youth consultation process which lead to the Youth Summit was very broad, involving in less than 3 months hundreds of young people in every EU Member State: after a pre-summit in Brussels in January, with 2 representatives from every National Youth Council and a group of representatives from international youth organisations, a number of regional and national debates were organised throughout Europe in order to draft conclusions that were then collected in a final declaration to be discussed, modified and approved in Rome.
Am I exaggerating? Look at them: the Berlin Declarations says that “we are facing major challenges which do not stop at national borders” and that “the European Union is our response to these challenges”. But it is only in the Rome Declaration that young people face the most important topics and write in the preamble: “Together, we have come up with answers and proposals that the European Union needs to implement. The European level is crucial to effectively address these issues, with the full involvement of its citizens. We want a European Union that promotes democratic values and human rights. We want a European Union that promotes sustainability, preserving our environment for future generations. We want a European Union that promotes the economic success and the social responsibility for all its citizens, especially the ones who are in greater need. We want a European Union that assumes its role in our globalised world. And for all that, we need a European Union capable of adapting its structures and procedures to its new realities”.
Democratic rules and concrete problems: that’s the Rome working method!
These few lines are sufficient to understand how concrete were the proposals that engaged the six working groups during the entire consultation: of course, there were some disagreements and many positions were contrasting but those youngsters managed to debate openly, using democratic rules (i.e. the majority voting) when it was not possible to reach a consensus.
Among the main concerns of the youth summit, the lack of transparency in the EU modus operandi was strongly addressed, not to mention the obvious necessity of involving civil society and, where it is possible, all the citizens in the EU decision-making, promoting those youth organisations that foster dialogue from the local to the international level but often have to face fundraising problems and complex visa procedures.
This means that it is not enough to generally promote “participation”, as the Berlin Declaration says, adding the necessity “to preserve our ideal of European society in future” as it “combines economic success and social responsibility”. It is much more valuable to say what we mean for European social model: young people say that this model should be based on the affirmation of fundamental social rights within a competitive economic context bringing social justice, including equal opportunities and fight against all kind of discrimination. This can only be achieved through the development of high social protection levels, wealth redistribution levels and fearless employment policies.
...young generations ask for a more democratic Europe, closer to its citizens...
As mentioned concerning environmental issues, the recent political developments allowed putting into the Berlin Declaration a reference to a common European policy on energy and climate change. But no other existing agreements allowed talking about renewable energies and to the importance of research and development (even if this is part of the Lisbon agenda), both taken into consideration in the Rome Declaration.
Concerning the European Union as an important subject on the international arena, the two documents express the necessity to achieve a guiding role but the young Europeans also stressed the need to talk with a single voice and to have a real common foreign policy, increasing the efforts in the field of development aid.
European leaders being vague on the Constitution…
At the end of the Berlin Declaration, as mentioned before, there is a general reference to the necessity to restart on a renewed common basis by the time of the European elections in 2009. We could easily foresee some political caution but this statement is deluding for those expecting a strong signal for the re-launch of the constitutional process after a two-years period of reflection which de facto did not lead to any step forward, being concentrated on the so called Plan D initiatives, which started at least a dialogue with civil society on the most tricky issues.
These consultations seemed to open the way to a different approach, much more transparent and citizens-oriented, leading to a clear road map for future developments. On the contrary, the press recently revealed Merkel’s intentions to go on with bilateral consultations and national experts appointed by the governments (sherpas) in order to deal with the future of the constitutional text.
… but for the young people it is a necessity
On the other side, it is interesting to notice how young people did not like “little steps” (given that they are forward) but confronted themselves, not without any disagreement, on the next direction to take until 2009. Their conclusions stress the necessity to give the European Union the tools to meet present and future challenges signing a Constitution as soon as possible.
In order to do so, the young generations ask for a more democratic Europe, closer to its citizens. The European Parliament should have the right to initiate legislation and should co-decide in all policy fields where the European Commission should be transformed into a true European executive, fully accountable to the Council and the Parliament. Such reforms require proper tools like a directly elected Convention, for the necessary modifications to the constitutional text, and a European referendum to give the citizens the final say and to legitimize the entire process.
So, what Europe do we want? The ambiguous and rhetoric Europe of governments or a participative and legitimate Europe coming directly from the citizens’ will? Young people made their decision, being aware of the fact that Europe is not about “fortune” but it is a major project to which they actively contribute every day.