Participatory Governance in the European Union. Which Approach for Youth?

Preamble

If confined to the Brussels jargon only a couple of decades ago, at present European Union’s ‘democratic deficit’ constitutes one of the most widespread concerns on the future of the integration project. Reacting to a general and steady reduction of public support, the EU has reformed the Treaties and adjusted the performance of its institutions for countering citizen disengagement, which has been a growing thread to the political stability of the Union specially since the approval of the Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty:

“The question of legitimacy is timely [...] because the last decade has witnessed nearly continuous debate over the proper constitutional structure for Europe” (Moravcsik, 2002: 604).

The challenges to legitimacy have grown stronger as the EU developed into an ever-complex system based on the “exponential multiplication of the political sites in which citizens’ interests are at stake” (Severs & Mattelaer, 2014: 35). How to bring into line, thus, further integration with enhanced legitimacy? With the advent of the new millennium, the European Union has relied more and more upon experimental policy-making for strengthening the legitimacy of its policies, which implies and increasing use of political participation into policy making processes. 

The main task in this project is to critically unpack the notion of participation as EU institutions describe it. 

In 2001, the European Commission led the so-called ‘participatory turn’ of EU decision-making (cf. Saurugger, 2008) by approving the White Paper on European Governance, a comprehensive reform aimed at unravelling the legitimacy crisis threatening the future stability of the EU: “[t]he Union is changing [...]. It will no longer be judged solely by its ability to remove barriers to trade or to complete an internal market; its legitimacy today depends on involvement and participation” (European Commission, 2001a: 11). After more than a decade of implementation, questions remain on the extent to which political participation has transformed EU governance. 

The dissertation scrutinizes a particular field of EU political action, the youth policy field, and focuses at the ICT usage in this environment.

If citizens’ alienation towards the integration project constitutes a major concern for EU institutions, this is especially true as regards young citizens: “The European project is itself young [...]. If it is to make progress, it needs ambition and enthusiasm, and commitment on the part of young people to the values on which it is based” (European Commission, 2001b: 4). The Governance Paper set the criteria for implementing participatory governance, and one of the first attempts in that regard was 2001’s new framework for European cooperation in the field of youth - which emerged from the White Paper “A New Impetus for European Youth”. Despite that EU’s action on the youth front dates back to 1988, the program was reinvigorated by adopting innovative cooperation mechanisms and by targeting at new priority themes; amongst them, “first and foremost, participation” (European Commission, 2001b: 16). 

But in spite of being a priority, some institutional reactions to the Youth Paper were critical on how participation was conceptualized and planned to implement, and significant amendments were soon proposed. In 2003, the Council of the EU suggested the formula of a ‘structured dialogue with youth’ that incorporate new actors into the policy-making process. And other participatory schemes followed the Structured Dialogue. In 2014, the European Parliament celebrated in Strasbourg the European Youth Event (EYE), a massive gathering of young citizens aimed at producing deliberative agenda setting in the youth field. This biennale event, which explores new paths of public engagement, culminates with sectorial hearings before the Members of the European Parliament conducted by a group of youth representatives.

The proliferation of participatory mechanisms within EU’s youth field demands empirical scrutiny. This research queries whether political participation has been coherently implemented in the youth policy field since the new framework for European cooperation was launched. Hence, the main research question of this doctoral thesis reads as follows:

Q1) have EU institutions produced different statements of participation throughout the implementation of the new framework for cooperation in the youth field (2001-2015)?

If variation turns out to be positive, this would give rise to the next questions:

Q2) why have these multiple interpretations emerged?

Q3) which one is more successful at mobilizing the European youth? 

Answering these questions requires deep examination of EU’s participatory strategies within the youth policy field. In order to do that in a systematic manner, this research opts for a research design based on content analysis techniques (i.e. text as data). More concretely, this study focuses on: a) the differences on the way the three main EU institutions (i.e. the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the EU) have conceived and implemented participatory governance; and b) whether their interpretations of the principle of participation has changed across time. 

 

Hypotheses

  • H1- Multiple statements of participation are produced throughout the implementation of the new framework for European cooperation in the youth policy field
  • H2- Variation can be mostly explained by institutional factors.
  • H3- European Parliament’s definition of participation is more successful in mobilizing the European youth than Commission’s or Council’s approach.