While the digital revolution certainly offers many new opportunities, the fast-paced digitisation of society is having more and more of an impact on different aspects of our lives. While Europe still stands out in regard to its social model and robust democracies, the rapid development of technology, artificial intelligence and machine learning raises new questions. How can the European Union ensure it remains in a position to shape the digital transformation of our economy and society while keeping to its values, protecting its open and democratic societies, and defending human rights.
With a view to protecting European democracy, this implies attention to recent political events which have shown that, as more and more people, especially young people, use social media for political purposes. As they read (fake) news and network with like-minded peers, they become exposed to external threats and foreign interference, putting at risk the integrity of elections in Europe. How can the EU protect young people from the risks associated with rising disinformation online, and with the shift towards data-driven online-targeted advertising in political campaigning? How to ensure that citizens, especially young people, have a say in the regulation of this rapidly growing sector?
Digital Europe also matters for young people in terms of the future of work which is also changing and increasingly shaped by new technologies. From the type of work that is required, the type of work that is available, to who undertakes it and how, there is a need to reflect on the role and value of work in society and in people’s lives. Young people are already at a disadvantage in the labour market. They often experience age-based discrimination in terms of their access to quality work, fair wages, or welfare systems. How can the EU invest in young people’s skills, including digital skills, creativity and adaptability, to ensure they keep a comparative advantage over new technology in the labour market? What reforms to welfare systems and labour legislation are needed in Europe to adapt to these new realities? How can Europe lead the way in safeguarding workers’ rights and wellbeing? What changes and investments are needed to ensure people in Europe, especially young people, remain at the heart of the new economy, and can contribute to sustainable development and social progress?
As has been the case for centuries, young people have a unique expectation and vision for their lives. Their priorities are different than the generation(s) that came before, and how they view the world is not the same. While post-war generations in Europe focused on rebuilding a continent through economic growth, young people today define “progress” in different ways. Meaningful work, work-life balance, equality within and between countries, wellbeing and living within environmental limits are all priorities that the youth of today hold dear.
The concept of Sustainable Development, that is, development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, puts forward a vision of the world that many young people today can relate to. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted in September 2015 by the United Nations, and is a commitment by UN Member States to achieve 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) covering environmental, social and economic issues. Thus far, young people have played a crucial role in the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and are recognised within the agenda as “critical agents for change”. However, three years into the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, while there has been progress on certain goals within the EU, progress in some areas has stalled or even regressed. GDP growth in the EU now goes hand-in-hand with a rising number of working poor, inequality, resource exhaustion, species extinction, debt and deaths from air pollution.
What kind of world we want to live in, what type of democracies we want to build, and what sort of planet we want to populate are questions that young people continually ask when making their political choices at the ballot box, and while they are deeply affected by the challenges of today, they have the potential and will to tackle these challenges. This can be seen through the climate marches of early 2019, inspired by young climate activist Greta Thunberg, and the daily actions of youth organisations throughout the world. Young people therefore play an essential role in driving change and supporting the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
How can it be ensured that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) form the basis of all EU policy-making and decisions? What steps can be taken to avoid the worst consequences of climate change? How can we build an economy that promotes happiness and well-being in harmony with nature?
After decades of progress, and the uniting of two divided halves of Europe after 1989, the continent faces a period of fragmentation. Inequality is rising alongside tougher external economic competition. Trust in political parties and other public institutions is shrinking. The United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union, and achieving consensus on EU integration and enlargement is becoming harder.
This raises a number of pertinent questions about the future direction of the continent and the European Union’s institutional structure: What is the role of the EU compared to national governments and private actors in this era? What opportunities should the EU guarantee for a new generation of Europeans? Should Europe focus on doing fewer things better? Should the next Commission change financial and political priorities: to issues like managing migration, boosting defence, improving education, and pushing green transitions? Can a two-tier Europe work: more integration for the willing, limited cohesion for the unwilling? Do critics, skeptics, and nationalists have a point about the EU’s flaws?