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Defending EU values and democracy starts at the local and regional level  

Local communities are instrumental in creating conditions for the development of good democratic habits, by fostering inclusive citizens dialogues, supporting youth engagement or leading by example with zero tolerance to discrimination and hate speech

Local and regional authorities play a crucial role in promoting EU citizenship and democratic rights and values: this is the main message of a meeting of the CoR Commission for Citizenship, Governance, Institutional and External Affairs (CIVEX) in Mafra, Portugal. The meeting gathered local and regional politicians, MEPs and representatives of youth organisations to discuss best practices on how to involve youth in the public debate and how to contribute to the fight against disinformation and hate speech, on the ground and online. The outcomes of these discussions will feed into the EU Charter on Youth and Democracy, one of the CoR actions following up on both the recommendations of the Conference on the Future of Europe (COFE) and the European Year of Youth.

Hélder Sousa Silva, Mayor of Mafra, CoR member and host of the CIVEX seminar, said: "The Municipality of Mafra is a territory with a rich cultural heritage, with strong connections to the history of Europe, and is currently characterized by its demographic attractiveness, with a high percentage of young people. Therefore, it is an honour for us to host this seminar. We hope that, from Mafra to Europe, it will be possible to contribute to the strengthening of the European identity, the role of local and regional authorities and the participation of citizens, especially young people".

The first part of the seminar was dedicated to the role of youth in EU democracy and the follow-up by local and regional authorities of the COFE proposals to increase citizens' and in particular youth participation in public debates. The CoR, in cooperation with the European Youth Forum, is supporting young people in a participatory exercise of co-drafting the EU Charter on Youth and Democracy that puts forward recommendations on the democratic participation of young people in social, political and civic life at all levels of governance. The Charter will be endorsed by the end of the year, with recommendations focusing on youth empowerment, leadership and democratic participation, education, cooperation, information, new technologies and digitalisation.

On the role of youth in European democracy, Member of the European Parliament Lídia Pereir a said: "Europe can and must learn from the crisis we are in by closely involving citizens and communities. All European citizens must have their say on the future of Europe. But this conviction that crises are opportunities for growth implies that all young people must be involved in a particular manner. There is no future Europe if those who have to identify with it, those who will be the beneficiaries of the rights and freedoms it guarantees, are not involved in its construction. This demonstrates the importance and the position that young people must occupy in European democracy."

In the second part of the seminar on the protection of European values against the waves of disinformation and hate speech, participants stressed the importance of keeping youth in mind when devising targeted tools to improve critical thinking and media literacy. Young people are heavy users of social media, where disinformation can thrive. Participants also discussed the role of local and regional authorities in building trust in the local communities, which, coupled with appropriate communication actions, can support building societal resilience to disinformation. In the opinion on the European Democracy Action Plan, the CoR has called for more resources to be given to local and regional authorities so that they can improve their capacity, expertise and skills in countering disinformation.

On disinformation and EU democracy, Mayor of Lisbon Carlos Moedas said: "Disinformation can become tremendously dangerous when it is spread in times of crisis such as this we are going through right now. The answer is simple: we must deliver. Deliver on matters essential to people’s lives. We must do an extremely good job in delivering a fair energy transition for all, a human digital transition, and we need to solve the problems that our citizens face every day: issues that go from health to housing policies".

Enzo Bianco, Member of the Catania City Council and Chair of the CoR CIVEX commission, concluded the seminar with these words: "We need to join forces to engage citizens of all ages in democratic processes, including by considering innovative approaches, in order to foster EU citizenship, bring the EU closer to its citizens and thus create a more democratic Union. However, strengthening participatory democracy cannot remain just a buzzword, but must lead to meaningful involvement through concrete initiatives at all levels of government. Local and regional authorities have consistently proved to be the most trusted level of government by citizens, and play their role to the full in this endeavour."

Contacts:

Municipality of Mafra

Joana Abreu

Email: gab.comunicacao@cm-mafra.pt

Tel: + 351 966262613

European Committee of the Regions

Angela Machado

Email: angela.machado@cor.europa.eu

Tel: + 351 967953519


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