An innovative online forum has been launched to narrow the ‘yawning gulf’ between the concerns of young professionals and those of the EU institutions.
The latest ‘Ideas Factory Europe’ initiative, organised by the European Policy Centre (EPC), aims to reconcile the policy priorities of young professionals and EU officials by providing an “exclusive forum for young, bright thinkers to come and discuss the issues that burn deep in their hearts but flicker weakly in European public debate”.
The EU institutions are often perceived as being remote from the lives of the citizens they serve. Moreover, officials are increasingly aware of the need to develop policy goals which match the aspirations of the population, particularly as the June 2009 European Parliament elections approach.
The ‘Ideas Factory Europe’ website invites citizens to submit “short, original and thought-provoking ideas” for publication, in response to which it is hoped others will post their reactions online. Moreover, “brainstorming meetings” will identify “the most burning issues” for subsequent discussion in an online forum.
The EPC wants the website to “put pan-European dilemmas affecting the young generation on the agenda and offer a different perspective from today’s policymakers”. To this end, it requires that contributors must be young professionals under the age of 40, in the hope that this will allow the debate to focus on the issues that “most closely affect this generation” rather than simply mirror the EU institutional agenda. Suggested topics include whether citizens would be willing to die for ‘Europe’ as well as whether they should be required to pay taxes without much chance of being supported by the state after retirement.
The internet is increasingly seen as a valuable tool in bringing the activities of the EU closer to its citizens. Indeed, a similar concept was launched in November last year ahead of the December UN conference on climate change in Bali, in the shape of a website seeking to give government, business, parliamentarians, NGOs and the general public the opportunity to contribute to formulating a successor to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change (EURACTIV 20/11/07). Likewise, Parliament held a two-day virtual ‘Agora’ last November to better engage the public in discussions on the EU’s future (EURACTIV 07/11/07).
Criticism that the EU is cut off from the concerns of its citizens led Communications Commissioner Margot Wallström to launch a ‘Communicate Europe in partnership’ initiative in October 2007, which seeks to foster greater cooperation between EU institutions and national governments in communicating EU policies.
All of these initiatives aim to boost popular support for the European project and reverse the decline in voter turnout at European elections.