On 30 April 2019, on the occasion of the European Youth Week, about 350 young citizens from all over the EU attended a Citizens’ Dialogue with Commissioner Navracsics in the European Parliament’s plenary chamber in Brussels, Belgium.
For a good hour and a half, citizens engaged in a lively debate with the Commissioner that focused on youth policy and notably the participation of young people in the political process, especially in the upcoming European elections.
A key topic during the Dialogue was the perceived lack of political representation of young people, with several participants asking why this is the case and how it could be improved. Commissioner Navracsics explained that the voting age limit is set by Member States and the EU cannot decide on this.
He personally expressed some doubts, though, that lowering the voting age would increase election participation.
As for young people holding elected office, he explained that it is up to the voters, of course. Regarding civil servants, the Commissioner observed that in the European Parliament, many of the staff are quite young.
One citizen demanded that non-citizens, notably refugees, should also be allowed to vote. Commissioner Navracsics replied that the right to vote is traditionally linked to citizenship. There is only one example in history when this was not the case, in the Soviet Union in 1918, when it was linked to class identity.
Another main issue was the lack of information about the EU. Several participants reported on their sobering experience with very little or no teaching about EU affairs being offered in the schools in their home countries.
The Commissioner regretted this, but argued there is very little the EU can do, as school curricula are purely a competence of the member states. Especially in rural areas, the education system often struggles.
Tibor Navracsics pointed to the opportunity to help with regional funds and the European Social Fund. He also pointed to the IT revolution, with e-twinning of schools.
Scholarships for lowincome students are part of the Erasmus programme, whose budget has doubled. Brexit also came up, notably the rights of EU citizens studying in the UK.
The Commissioner explained that it is up to the UK to decide what future relationship with the EU it aims for. In any event, he said the EU will protect its citizens and their interest.