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Democratic institutions around the world seem to be losing appeal for an increasing number of citizens. Many of the debates in Western social and political science and philosophy in recent decades have revolved around notions of citizenship, social cohesion, social capital, trust, or deliberation (Blokland 2006, 2016) This research points to widespread concern about citizens who participate less and less in social and political activities, whose understanding of social, economic, and political processes and structures is decreasing, and who are increasingly susceptible to favour easy answers to complicated problems. These trends underline the urgent need to find new ways for citizens to meaningfully participate in social and political activities. These forms of participation should strengthen the political competencies and feelings of political community that are needed for informed and purposeful political action. Greater political competencies would also increase the public’s ability to assess the value and truth of the continually increasing number and sophistication of communications aimed at influencing their opinions and behaviours.
The European Union is suffering from declining legitimacy, a process fuelled by populist parties across Europe who have targeted the European Union. Brexit was not an incident and could be followed by more exits which would weaken the European project. For those who care about the European idea, it is therefore of great importance to promote a critical and informed debate about the values, purposes, instruments, and workings of the European Union.
The objective of Social Science Works’ project “Our Europe for All” was to research what European citizenship meant to young people (15-19 years old) living in Berlin and Brandenburg. By way of workshops held in schools, Social Science Works sought to both educate young people about decision-making processes in the European Union and to create a space where they could discuss their concerns, ideas, and hopes for the future of the European Union, and reflect on the rights and responsibilities of European citizens. Over the course of six months, Social Science Works organised nineteen deliberative workshops with classes from grade 10 to 13 in Berlin and Brandenburg, reaching over 300 pupils. In these workshops, the pupils deliberated on the ideas and values that underlie the European project, learnt about the European Union’s political processes, and shared their ideas, hopes, and concerns for the future of the European Union. They discussed political areas they wanted to see prioritised and proposed policies and legislation they believed would strengthen the European Union and secure their future.
This article seeks to outline these findings and provide insight into a young European demographic’s stance toward the European Union, their relationship to the notion of European citizenship and to forms of democratic participation. It first summarises the project and Social Science Works’ experience of deliberative workshops as a tool to increase civic consciousness and engagement. The article then delves into the results of the survey we conducted during the workshops and analyses them in parallel with the discussions held during the meetings.
I – The Project
Social Science Works is a social enterprise based in Potsdam with the broad mission of making use of social scientific knowledge to improve civil society and democratic decision-making. Social Science Works’ core competencies include deliberative integration and democracy projects and democracy research. The “Our Europe for all” workshops were led by Social Science Works fellows, who trained and accompanied pupils in deliberative exchange. We see deliberation as an open and courteous exchange of ideas and values, which furthers the discovery, understanding, contextualization and development of preferences. Deliberation is not about transferring the undisputed, fixed preferences of individuals into collective decisions and policies; it is foremost about the joint development of substantiated preferences regarding the public cause.
During the deliberative workshops the pupils also filled out a survey aimed at gathering information on their understanding of and perceptions on the European Union, their identity in relation to the European Union, and their wishes for its future. Finally, the findings from the discussions and survey served to prepare a conference attended by student representatives from each school and European Parliamentarians for Berlin and Brandenburg, during which the pupils presented their ideas and concerns to the politicians.
Workshop and survey design
The workshops were designed around an interactive survey using the online platform Mentimeter. This survey was structured into three parts: the European Union and its values, democratic participation in the European Union, and the future of the European Union. We first asked a dozen questions to test the extent of the participants’ factual knowledge about the EU. This was followed by questions focusing on the EU’s legislative and political procedures and the opportunities for political participation in the EU. The final part of the survey gathered data on the participants’ ideas and wishes for the future of the EU. Some of the questions in the final part of the survey mirrored the Eurobarometer survey on the Future of Europe, enabling the comparison of the results of a particular regional demographic (15-19 year olds in Berlin and Brandenburg) with a larger database collected at both EU and national levels.
The Mentimeter platform invites participants to type in answers directly into their phones. The results were in turn presented and projected onto the wall to be discussed among the group. To avoid respondents influencing each other, participants only saw the results after everyone had sent in their answers. The deliberative discussions were thus shaped by the survey questions and by the participants’ answers. Participants were asked to analyse the results together and discuss why they had answered in a certain way, providing more in-depth reasonings for their opinions and feelings. When there was reason to do so, for instance because the answers were demonstrably incorrect or because the opinions expressed differed greatly, we were able to dwell longer on specific questions. The workshops’ quiz-like character retained participants’ attention and many pupils provided positive feedback about the design of the workshops and its interactive format.
Our aim was to reach pupils from the metropolis of Berlin and rural Brandenburg, as well as pupils enrolled in various types of educational facilities. Since educational careers, especially in Germany, are strongly determined by social origin (Pfeffer 2008; Maaz 2020), we hoped visiting different types of educational institutions would enable us to reach various social strata. These ambitions turned out to be largely unrealisable. The pandemic created a particularly challenging environment for recruitment, as insecurity about the school year and lack of foresight on the measures under which schools would be operating made school administrators reluctant to accept hosting a workshop. 138 schools were contacted from April 2021 onward to schedule workshops for the following school year between late August and early November. Most schools did not respond to e-mails and when reached via telephone they frequently requested to be contacted again at the beginning of August. Finally, after very little success, positive responses started to trickle in one month into the school year, presumably as schools had gained insight into how they were going to operate under new health protocols.
Of the 85 schools contacted in Brandenburg, only two accepted hosting a workshop. The majority of schools did not answer, but among those who rejected our invitation many administrators justified their decision by underlining the lost time caused by distance learning and the pressure and necessity to catch up with curriculums. Others expressed disinterest in the project and in educational programmes on the European Union, stating that their students were not interested in politics. We received similar responses from many non-gymnasium schools. In Berlin 53 schools were contacted and 12 were recruited, a few of them requesting more than one workshop be organised. Consequently, the majority of the approximately 30 contacted Berlin grammar schools with pupils from often already privileged backgrounds were happy to participate, and the approximately 110 schools in rural or disadvantaged areas with pupils who could have benefited most from the project did not respond. Thus, the data presented here primarily reflect the knowledge, ideas, and attitudes of pupils attending Gymnasia in Berlin, which unfortunately limits it. Social Science Works ended up having to heavily rely on motivated teaching staff to embrace the opportunity for their students to deliberate on the future of the European Union and participate in a conference with European decision-makers.
In sum, Social Science Works managed to deliver 19 workshops in 14 schools, reaching over 300 pupils between grade 10 and 13. A total of 320 students from 14 different schools completed the survey in whole or in part. In the latter case, questions were not presented to them due to lack of time. Questions were left unanswered only in a few cases. Twelve schools were in Berlin, one in Potsdam and only one in Brandenburg (in Nauen). Of the participating schools, seven were “Gymnasien” which are the equivalent of grammar schools, three were “Oberstufenzentren” which are professional training schools, three were “Oberschulen” and one was a “Gemeinschaftsschule”, both types of comprehensive state schools.
As mentioned above, the workshops entailed three parts. The first part of the workshops aimed at discussing the European project and its history, the values pupils associated with the European Union, and how much influence they considered the European Union to have in their lives and in different policy areas (environment, agriculture, migration, economy and industry, social policy, justice). The second part assessed their understanding of decision-making and legislative procedures in the European Union and how they positioned themselves within these procedures, how much influence they considered themselves to have, how well they perceived themselves to understand the political challenges of the EU, and what tools at their disposition they believed were most effective to participate in the democratic process. The final part of the workshop aimed at providing a platform for participants to share their ideas and wishes for the future of the EU, what areas they wanted prioritised, what they considered the main upcoming challenges for the EU to be, and what values they hoped to see strengthened at the European level.
The majority of the workshops were dynamic events, the students demonstrating strong enthusiasm for sharing their ideas and deliberatively discussing their opinions. Most workshops were held with political science classes in the 12th or 13th grade, with pupils who had strong knowledge of European political processes and a demonstrated interest in current affairs and politics. This enabled in-depth exchanges, during which pupils for instance deliberated on the ways in which the European Union and its Member States failed to respect or live up to its fundamental values, principles of human rights, and rule of law. The cases of Poland and Hungary frequently came up to illustrate challenges to these values, regarding for instance restrictions of LGBTQIA+ rights and of the freedom of press, or alluding to the compromise of rule of law.
However, pupils did not only single out Member States to question the European Union’s adherence to its values. In all workshops, pupils brought up the treatment of asylum seekers and migrants at Europe’s borders to illustrate the EU’s current shortcomings. The allegations of human rights violations brought against EU agency FRONTEX and the EU’s cooperation with actors such as the Libyan coastguard or countries with contentious human rights records were problematised by participants. Beyond the EU and human rights, many other topics were broached by these more advanced groups. Participants for instance advocated more direct democracy in the European Union, or debated the possibility of a European Army in future and what form it should take. Overall, participants were capable of approaching complex challenges in a nuanced manner and of engaging with each others’ stances in a respectful and constructive way.
In the workshops held with classes that were not specialised in political sciences or with younger teenagers, Social Science Works fellows spent more time explaining the legislative and political structures of the European Union and answering questions. Nonetheless, we received positive feedback from participants who noted that the survey structure had made the experience engaging and fun.
At the end of each workshop, one or two representatives volunteered or were elected by their classmates to participate in the conference with EU parliamentarians during which they would present the outcomes of the project.
Conference with EU Parliamentarians
The preparatory meeting and the conference took place in the ExRotaPrint Projektraum “Glaskiste” in Berlin on the 19 November 2021. The eleven European parliamentarians for Berlin and Brandenburg were invited very early on, first contacted to provide their support in the project proposal phase and then officially invited once funding was secured at the beginning of 2021. Of the eleven parliamentarians, seven initially accepted the invitation: Erik Marquardt (Die Grünen), Gabriele Bischoff (SPD), Helmut Scholz (Die Linke), Moritz Körner (FDP), Dr Christian Ehler (CDU), Dr Sergey Lagodinsky (Die Grünen), Dr Nicolaus Fest (AfD). These parliamentarians covered the spectrum of political parties. In the week before the conference, one parliamentarian requested to join digitally, Moritz Körner, whilst two others, Erik Marquardt and Dr Lagodinsky, cancelled their attendance following last minute changes to their schedules. On the day of the event, three further parliamentarians (Dr Christian Ehler, Gabriele Bischoff, Dr Nicolaus Fest) cancelled their attendance for various reasons. Two parties, die Grünen and the SPD, offered to send other representatives to the conference.
The conference was preceded by a preparatory workshop in the morning and early afternoon of the same day, which 21 student representatives attended. During this meeting, Social Science Works fellows presented the results of the surveys conducted at all the schools. To prepare the conference, the pupils focused on the questions relating to the future of the European Union and deliberated about which political areas they wanted to focus on and discuss with the EU Parliamentarians. The survey results demonstrated that pupils considered the topics of climate action, education, social policies, justice and human rights, and migration to be of central importance. The student representatives added that they wanted to discuss foreign and security policy. Based on these results, the pupils formed working groups around the policy areas of justice and human rights, security and foreign policy, climate action and migration, and education. In these working groups, they discussed the main points they wanted to make and prepared questions for the parliamentarians. After a lunch break, the pupils reconvened in an open round and each working group presented what they had drawn up, gathering insight and comments from the other pupils.
The European Parliamentarian Helmut Scholz (Die Linke) and representatives from the Grünen and the SPD participated in the conference in person, technical difficulties unfortunately prevented the hybrid format from taking place. The pupils presented the topics and posed the questions they had prepared and deliberatively discussed them in an open format with the parliamentarian and party representatives present. It was a constructive exchange during which the pupils asked about the state of rule of law amongst European Member States, human rights abuses within and outside of EU borders, the EU’s foreign policy strategy, specifically regarding China, the EU’s climate action plans, European asylum policies, and the digitalisation of education. Overall, although the young people expressed disappointment at how few politicians showed up to the conference, they were glad to have been given the platform to make their ideas and concerns known.
II – Survey Results
In the survey, we first asked about some demographic characteristics. It was remarkable that in addition to 75 men and 74 women, no less than 31 people (17.22% of the pupils that answered the gender question) defined themselves as “diverse”. The topic of gender diversity thus seems to have caught on among Berlin students. As in most other areas covered by the survey, no significant differences between the answers of people with or without a migration background could be observed. About half (49.31%) of the respondents indicated that one or both parents had been born in a country other than Germany.
Openness was observable with regard to how pupils identified themselves. Participants were asked to weigh five “identity categories” in order of importance: Berliner or Brandenburger, German, European, World Citizen or something else. Figure 2 shows the results for all respondents. To calculate these results, we assigned five points to the first chosen identity and one point to the last. The German identity category thus received almost 30 per cent of all allocated points, almost as much as the identity derived from (mainly) Berlin or Brandenburg. It was followed by European (21%), World Citizen (15%) and something else (5%). The latter case could be related to identities associated with a migration past, another country for instance.
When comparing the results of this question between participants with or without a migration past, differences can be observed, as shown in Figures 3a and 3b. Of all the points attributed to the identity “German”, 71% came from respondents without a migration past and 29% from those with such a background (both groups, as a reminder, were of similar size). Participants with a migration background felt closer to the identity of Berliner, world citizen, European and/or “something else”, and thus significantly less “German”.
Knowledge of the EU and its institutions
How much knowledge did the students have of the European Union? The overall level of knowledge turned out to be quite high, but, as already explained, this cannot be interpreted as representative of all pupils in Germany. As the difficulties encountered during the recruitment process reflect, the schools and pupils who participated already demonstrated an interest in the EU and in education projects linked to it. In the schools we visited, projects thematising the European Union were regularly held and the motivated teachers responsible for hosting our project regarded it as a welcome addition. The students who could have benefited most from a project like this through exposure to topics they would not encounter otherwise were not given the opportunity to do so by their schools.
To get a feel for the participants’ knowledge of EU affairs we asked, among other things, how many member states the European Union has, to which participants could answer by choosing from the possibilities 45, 27, 6, and 19. Almost all participants knew that there were 27 member states. Another knowledge question posed was as follows: “When did the European unification process, that is known today as the European Union, start?”. The participants could select one of four time periods: 1850-1860, 1915-1925, 1945-1955 and 2000-2010. 79% of respondents chose the correct period, whereas 10% thought that the unification process had started between 1915 and 1925 and 7% chose the period between 2000 and 2010.
The pupils were also asked whether the following statement was correct: “As a German citizen, I can elect a Dutch MP in the European election.” 41% of the 313 respondents believed that this was indeed possible. Following this line of logic, it could then happen that a small country like Belgium would have no representatives in the European Parliament. However, 86% of respondents understood that this could not occur and that each country gets a number of seats in the European Parliament proportionally related to the size of its population.
The more technical, but certainly no less important, question “What institution proposes EU-law?” could be answered with one of four possibilities: the Member States, the European Commission, the European Parliamentarians, or the Court of Justice of the European Union. Under typical democratic arrangements the parliament holds this power, however in the EU it is the European Commission that holds the right of initiative and proposes European legislation. Indeed 108 (42%) respondents were aware of this, while 130 (51%) believed the European Parliament proposed legislation and 19 people (7%) answered with Member States.
To what extent did respondent say they would (like to) participate politically and how did they estimate the possibilities to influence decision-making in the EU?
Although pupils demonstrated an impressive grasp of current societal and political issues during the workshops, a majority of respondents (53,65%) disagreed with the following statement “I believe I have a good understanding of the important political challenges of the European Union” (Figure 5). This data reflects a felt distance to the European Union and its institutions frequently mentioned by pupils. Many students didn’t feel addressed by the European Union and expressed a wish for more communication aimed directly at them. These feelings of distance were linked to the belief that they didn’t have a say or influence on the doings of the European Union (56,11% agreed to different degrees with the following statement: “People like me don’t have any influence on what the European Union does.”). Overall, female respondents were more optimistic about their influence on the doings of the EU than their male counterparts.
Despite this feeling of distance to EU political procedures shared by many participants, an overwhelming majority stated they would go vote in the next European election: on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 indicating “Would not vote” and 5 “Would certainly vote”, 72,46% of respondents selected 5 followed by 14,98% with 4. This demonstrates trust in the democratic election process and underlines participants’ readiness to make use of the democratic participation possibilities available to them. If this data is to be read in conjunction with the expressed feelings of distance or of not having any influence on the EU’s political outcomes, it becomes clear that it is not an unwillingness to participate in the democratic process, but a perceived lack of opportunities to do so which was of concern to respondents.
The survey also included a question on which forms of participation respondents considered appropriate for exerting influence within the EU. There were eleven possibilities to choose from, including voting in the EU elections, participating in an online consultation, in a European citizens’ initiative, in a demonstration, or in an Internet debate. Other possibilities were to become a member of a political party, of an interest group, or to endorse a petition. Most pupils appeared to be especially confident in casting their vote in elections. This was followed by participating in a citizens’ initiative and in demonstrations. It was striking that the options of becoming a member of a political party or a pressure group were not highly valued. Respondents ranked participating in European online consultations or in social media debates even lower. Very few demonstrated confidence in the latest media as a space for constructive political exchange. Facebook was hardly used by any participants and the popular platforms Instagram or TikTok served mainly for entertainment. Although used by some participants to access information on current affairs, the belief that social media are very one-sided and manipulative was widespread. Once again it has to be mentioned that our project mainly managed to reach pupils of Gymnasia with very engaged school teachers, often in the field of political science. This context may have had a strong impact on the pupils’ media competences. Our experiences in other projects working with other kinds of schools differed profoundly (Blokland 2020).
Perceived influence of the European Union
Where influence is exerted on people’s lives, the motivation to participate in the decision processes that bring about this influence may be higher. We therefore asked about the perceived influence of the European Union. A first general question raised was “How much influence does the European Union have on my day to day life?”. Figure four depicts the results demonstrating a slight tendency towards a felt important influence, although the majority of respondents aimed for the middle ground of “some influence”. It is interesting to note that the respondents who believed that the EU had “No influence at all” on their day to day life were mainly male participants without a migration background and that the option “some influence” was selected especially by female participants.
The question (graph 10) “How do you assess the influence of the European Union in the following areas? Environment, migration, agriculture, defense, sports, culture, employment and social affairs (minimum wage, pensions), economy and industry, justice and fundamental rights, data protection” (1 = no influence; 5 = very strong influence) sought to gather more specific data. Influence was perceived mainly in “Economy and industry” (4.18), and then, decreasing in importance, in “Migration” (3.67), “Justice and fundamental rights” (3.55), “Agriculture” (3.39), “Data protection” (3.27) “Defense” (3.26), “Environment” (3.1), “Employment and social affairs” (2.83), “Culture” and “Sport” (2.26). It is striking that participants attributed a strong influence to the EU in the area of migration, considering the differing treatment of asylum seekers among member states in recent years. Migration is perhaps precisely an area where the EU has so far shown little ability to agree and act collectively. It is also striking that precisely in those areas where respondents perceived relatively less influence (Environment, Employment and social affairs), participants wished for a much greater impact, as discussed below.
Internationalism and the European Union as a community of values
What else can we deduce from the survey results, especially regarding respondents’ expectations of the EU? First of all, it was remarkable that the participants placed a great deal of emphasis on international solidarity in the context of the European Union. In a nutshell, they argued for a welfare state at the European level, in which citizens from poorer member states were guaranteed a minimum quality of education, health care and social security by the EU. The fact that richer member states such as Germany would have to pay for this was of little concern to the participants. Pupils were convinced that EU membership was beneficial for Germany in any case, as the EU provides markets for German goods and services, and cheap labour, services, and goods from other member states. To illustrate, the average response to the statement “Membership to the European Union is advantageous to Germany” was no less than 4.1 (5 being equivalent to Totally agree) with a Standard Deviation (SD) of 0.97 and a Standard Error of Mean (SEM) of 1.9. In particular Berliners can hardly fail to notice that many highly educated or otherwise skilled citizens from other European countries live and work in Berlin. Without skilled Polish workers, for example, much of the home maintenance and goods traffic here would soon collapse. The former member state England found this out the hard way.
Internationalism, cosmopolitanism and respect for pluralism were expressed in the answers to various questions on various themes. For example, the statement “Cultural Diversity is a threat to the balance of the European Union” was rejected by the participants in large numbers. On a scale of 1 (Totally disagree) to 5 (Totally agree), the average answer was 1.14 (SD=0.65; SEM=1.03).
The responses to the question „What do you consider would be the most helpful for the future of Europe?“ were possibly the most illuminating (Figure 9). The participants were asked to choose three options. Every chosen option got one point. “Comparable living standards” received a quarter of all assigned points, followed by “Stronger solidarity between Member States” (17,5%) and “A Common Health Policy” (12%). These top answers closely mirror those collected by the Eurobarometer Future of Europe survey at the EU-level, indicating a cross-generational and cross-national wish among European citizens for a tighter knit Union. “Stronger economic integration” only ranked fifth (10%) and a theme such as „Energy independency“ did not receive more than 7% of all ascribed points.
Younger generations, especially the highly educated, place more emphasis on intangible values, according to several researchers (Inglehart 1997). This observation is subject to critique (Lane 2000: Blokland 2016), but at least with regard to the European Union one can observe that our respondents wished to define this Union primarily as a community of values. They also wished that more weight would be given to values in the future, including the international solidarity and equality of life chances discussed above.
Another example to support this observation is the response to the statement, “There are values, that member states must respect to stay in the European Union” The average of the answers here was a whopping 4.58 (5 = totally agree) with an SD of 0.89 and an SEM of 1.16. At the same time, many respondents tended to support the expansion of the European Union. The average of the answers to the statement “The European Union should accept new member states” was 2.93 (SD=1.13; SEM=2.31). In this scenario, new member states were thus required and expected to respect the fundamental values of the European Union. The statement “The European Union should exclude certain Member States” gathered almost the exact same score (Avg=2.92; SD=0.37; SEM=0.71). In the deliberative discussions, participants expanded upon the statement, relating it to member states such as Poland and Hungary that they believed do not sufficiently respect the European principles of rule of law (separation of powers, freedom of the press and of association) and of human rights (especially regarding the treatment of the LGBTQIA+ community). Overall, pupils wished for stricter measures to be taken against these member states, however exclusion from membership was debated among the groups, with many pupils voicing opposition to this measure as they believed it did nothing to help the populations living in those member states secure their rights.
The answers to “The European Union should prioritise action in the following areas.” equally indicated the idea among participants that the EU is primarily a community of values. Respondents could choose from 11 different options and were asked to indicate their three top answers. Climate action and the environment was mentioned 80 times (and received 28% of all points awarded), Employment and social affairs (minimum wage, pensions) 42 times (15%), Education 41 times (14%), Justice and fundamental rights 30 (10%), Migration 30 times (10%), and the Economy and industry 22 times (8%). Although agriculture has traditionally taken up an extraordinarily large share of the EU Budget (33% over the period between 2021 and 2027), it was mentioned only 4 times (1.4%) as an important policy area (see Figure 7).
More than half of all participants (58,45%) considered the climate crisis to pose the greatest challenge to the future of the European Union, followed at a great distance by migration and health risks (see figure 8). Ageing society and risks arising from new technologies (KI, genetic engineering, digitisation) were of relatively less concern to the respondents.
Education was a very important issue for many. The majority of participants emphasised that education and educational equality should receive much more attention within the EU. The average response to the statement “The EU should have more influence on what children learn in school” was 2.97 (5 equating to totally agree) with an SD equals to 1.01 and an SEM of 0.97. During the conference preparation with the school representatives, an in-depth discussion unfolded around this issue. Several participants were of the opinion that the EU should exert more influence on national curricula so that, among other things, it would be easier for students to study abroad or for workers to work abroad. The differences in curricula, not only in terms of content but also in quality, were said to impair this movement. Participants believed that the quality of education in many states should be raised with EU assistance to ensure that across the EU people would have equal opportunities to develop in school. At the same time, it was also pointed out that the EU has little or no competence in the field of education and that the content of education is strongly linked to national identities and preferences, which participants also wished to respect. However, it was generally agreed that it would be desirable for all students in the EU to receive education about the history and basic values of the EU. This was currently lacking, including in Germany.
More offensive action by the EU
Participants wished for much bolder action from the EU in many areas. Respondents listed the slowness of decision-making, empty words and hollow promises, lack of vision, commonality and decisiveness as sources of irritation. We have already discussed many examples of this above: young people wanted much bolder environmental policies, more influence on the equality of social opportunities throughout Europe (education, health care, social services), tougher action against member states that did not respect human rights and the political principles of the EU, stronger strategies and counteraction in international politics against the influence of the United States, Russia, and China. Participants argued Europe had to make itself economically and militarily independent from these powers in order to be able to safeguard its own values. The EU also has to act jointly against multinationals: the average response to the statement “The EU should play a role in negotiations with and the regulation of large multinational cooperations such as Amazon, Google, Shell…” was 3.67 (5 equating with totally agree). A large number of respondents even agreed with the statement “The European Union should have more influence on national borders” ( (the average was 2.49; SD = 1.13; SEM = 2.1).
The “Our Europe for All” project provided Social Science Works with great insight into the potential of deliberative workshops to encourage democratic participation and reflection on civic engagement. Although within the scope of this project we were not able to measure the long term effect of deliberative democracy education on civic participation and engagement, we did observe the project’s immediate positive impact on participants. Many highly valued the deliberative setup of the workshops and the concluding conference. It was disappointing that so many pupils in Brandenburg and at non-Gymnasium schools in Berlin were not given the opportunity by their schools to participate in the project. Those who were given this opportunity impressed us by their thoughtfulness, engagement, and willingness and ability to discuss the issues brought to the table in a respectful and informed way.
Regarding the views expressed by our participants, the great deal of emphasis placed on international solidarity in the context of the European Union was noteworthy. The students argued more or less for a welfare state at the European level, in which citizens from poorer member states were guaranteed a minimum quality of education, health care and social security by the EU. They saw the European Union explicitly as a community of values and much less as an economic project. With regard to member states as well as on an international scale, participants expected more confident and bold action from the EU to safeguard the values at the heart of the European idea.
* Several members of Social Science Works participated in this project. The project was developed by the two authors. The recruitment of the schools was mainly done by Paola Perrin with the assistance of Stavroula Kapsogeorgi. The research part was mainly done by Hans Blokland with the invaluable assistance of Yusril Nurhidayat, Sahba Salehi, and Paola Perrin. The workshops were given by Paola Perrin and, in smaller numbers, Hans Blokland, Mirjam Neebe and Philipp Bautz. Yusril and Sahba provided technical support. The cooperation of people with six different national backgrounds proved, as so often, very fruitful and suited the aims of the Erasmus+ programme well.
Blokland, Hans. 2006. Modernization and Its Political Consequences: Weber, Mannheim, and Schumpeter. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
Blokland, Hans. 2016. Pluralism, Democracy and Political Knowledge. London and New York: Routledge.
Blokland, Hans. 2020. Deliberating Discrimination, Antisemitism, Racism, Sexism, Homophobia in Volatile Schools in Hamburg: Why was there a wall between East and West Germany and not one between the North and the South?
Inglehart, Ronald. 1997. Modernization and Postmodernization: Cultural, economic, and political changes in 43 societies. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Lane, Robert. 2000. The Loss of Happiness in Market Democracies. New Haven: yale University Press.
Maaz, Kai. 2020. Soziale Ungleichheiten in den verschiedenen Bildungsbereichen. Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung. Retrieved on January 18, 2022.
Pfeffer, Fabian. 2008. Persistent Inequality in Educational Attainment and its Institutional Context. European Sociological Review, Vol. 24, No. 5, pp. 543–565.
 In Germany, the school system encompasses different types of schools catering to various levels of academic achievement or vocational training. “Gymnasien” offer the highest level of academic training, preparing students to obtain the Abitur diploma. “Oberstufenzentren” are vocational training schools. “Oberschulen” and “Gemeinschaftsschulen” are both types of comprehensive schools. Schoolchildren are oriented towards a particular pathway very early on (4-5th grade) based on their academic achievement.
 The hygiene and safety measures of the day’s events followed “2G plus” rules: participants above 18 had to show vaccination or recovery certificates and all participants had to do a lateral flow selftest before entering the venue.
 It is of interest to compare these results with those of another workshop with, in this case, elder East Germans. Among the participants of this workshop, who had gone to school before German reunification, the opinion was widespread that the European Union was only about 15-20 years old and had mainly been Angela Merkel’s initiative.