Tue. Jun 6th, 2023

During early 2021, Debating Europe recruited 100 young people from 26 Member States for a series of focus groups to find out about their opinions and aspirations about the European Union and its future, in the in the COVID and post-COVID context. Young Europeans’ bright recommendations are now available in the “100 European Voices: Young People Debate Europe’s Recovery Plan”*.

The focus group report

The world has changed. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated existing trends and inequalities, it has hit “fast forward” on the digitalisation of society and has exposed an urgent need to develop resilience and sustainability ahead of the green transition. It has also prompted state intervention in society and the economy on a scale rarely seen outside of wartime.

Young people have been among the most impacted by these changes. In terms of education, employment, lockdowns and social distancing, paying back the mountain of accumulated public debt, not to mention the coming upheaval from the digital and green transitions, young people are at the forefront of our changing world. So, what do young people think about Europe’s recovery plans? What sort of Europe do they want to build back after the pandemic?

Young Europeans in our focus groups articulated the most pressing hopes and concerns of many in their age group across the world. They urged policy makers to start preparing for another pandemic while the public is still onside. They want a more inclusive decision-making process to make sure their voices are heard. And they called for more support for young people, particularly for the institutions they rely on most – schools and universities.

Life during lockdown hit many of them hard. The stories we were told often featured life-changing decisions – whether that was being forced to return from a long-planned gap year, quitting school or changing jobs. Technology was a universal theme in the focus groups. Whether it can be harnessed for the benefit of society was one of the hottest discussions. Students were almost unanimous in believing online lessons are not a long-term replacement for in-person teaching.

Governments’ initial responses to the pandemic were broadly welcomed. Lockdowns, curfews and other restrictions were seen as necessary to stop the spread of a deadly virus. But there were two main points of criticism. Many felt their governments backed out of these restrictions too early, prolonging the agony for many. And the EU failed to foster genuine harmony between states, leading to a patchwork of measures and a lack of solidarity.

The young people in our focus groups had little direct experience of receiving financial aid. But in general, the sums on offer were seen as too little with too many bureaucratic hurdles to clear. Several young people felt that the packages failed to target those most in need, such as freelance workers. EU aid to member states was most often seen in terms of the difficulties involved rather than the potential benefits.

Longer-term ideas for a green recovery in Europe generated one of the most lively discussions, with opinion split on whether jobs and medium-term social needs should trump longer-term climate concerns. Several young people suggested that creating a Europe less reliant on imported goods would shorten the production chain, improve the economy and benefit the environment. Many called for more solidarity with southern countries and called for northern nations to overcome attitudes framed in the last financial crisis.

Next steps

The report is being distributed among top level EU and national decision makers for proper follow up in the context of the Conference on the Future of Europe, encouraging them to take young Europeans’ recommendations into account. In parallel, MEPs’ are reacting to the report recommendations in a series of debates published as of September and until end 2021 for further visibility and engagement on the issues under discussions.

The report and its main recommendations will be also published in Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE) platform to extend the debate to a wider audience and contribute to generate visibility and value to the CoFoE.

Background information

Debating Europe is an initiative of Friends of Europe, the Brussels-based think tank for a more sustainable, inclusive and forward-looking Europe. We host a successful online discussion platform based on a simple model: citizens ask questions, policymakers and experts respond. Since launching, we have built a 5,6 million strong community of citizens and a social media following of over 271,000 people from across Europe. To date, a selection of 180,000 questions has been put to over 3,000 key policymakers and experts. On top of debates, we organise focus groups, citizens’ panels and citizens’ workshops as ways to engage and empower civil society to influence decision makers.

For more information: 100 European Voices: Young People Debate Europe’s Recovery Plan

Contact for press enquiries and interview opportunities: Adam Nyman, Director at Debating Europe

*This project was co-financed by the European Union in the frame of the European Parliament’s grant programme in the field of communication. The European Parliament was not involved in its preparation and is, in no case, responsible for or bound by the information or opinions expressed in the context of this action. In accordance with applicable law, the authors, interviewed people, publishers or programme broadcasters are solely responsible. The European Parliament can also not be held liable for direct or indirect damage that may result from the implementation of the action.

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