This study is concerned with the participation of young people in European democratic life. A normative conception of youth participation, defining political participation broadly, is about engaging in forming opinions and taking actions to bring about positive change in society. Youth participation, in other words, fosters a sense of citizenship and makes policy processes more transparent and accountable towards young people. At the same time, it helps young people build self-confidence, develop a sense of initiative and acquire and test skills that are relevant for the workplace, such as communication, negotiation or teamwork, in a practical environment.
When it comes to the participation of young people in democratic life, Europe has no borders. Young people's patterns of participation in society vary in line with different cultural norms, history and geography. But across Europe, the concept of youth participation is shared. The conclusions and recommendations of this study are therefore not only relevant to the member states of the European Union, but equally to other countries in the wider Europe context (which would in practice include non-EU members of the Council of Europe).
In its efforts to promote youth participation and to recognise young people's involvement in decision-making, the Commission promotes sharing its experience in youth policy with the EU's neighbouring countries in Europe.
As political participation – from electoral turnout to party membership – has significantly declined over the past 40 years both in Europe and beyond, particular care needs to be taken that young Europeans get the best possible opportunity to engage with their political systems. This study is one of the most in depth ever conducted on youth participation in democratic life in Europe. It provides unprecedented empirical evidence on the exact strengths and weaknesses of the participation of young people in Europe across their social and national diversity and systematically assesses their causes.
Perhaps even more importantly, however, in a context of changing political structures and technological opportunities, it studies ways to enhance the participation of young Europeans, not only quantitatively (that is, by making young Europeans ‘participate more’) but also qualitatively (enabling young people to ‘make the most’ of democratic participation and be better represented and more influential in national and international democratic systems).
The results of this study are structured around six key themes:
(1) the representation of young people, with a particular focus on youth organisations;
(2) decision-makers’ engagement with young people in policy processes, with specific attention to the EU’s Structured Dialogue;
(3) youth electoral participation, including an assessment of e-voting and social media campaigning;
(4) non-electoral (both organised and unorganised) forms of participation, including volunteering;
(5) the role of mainstream media, community media and new media in fostering participation in democratic life amongst young people; and
(6) youth exclusion and its relationship to civic participation.