“We have to take our democracy very seriously: to teach it, to debate it, to improve it and last, but not least, to defend it. Democracy can be destroyed from the outside and the inside too by populists. Therefore, education must equip all young people with skills not only for employment but also for a democratic way of life.” Emil Boc, Mayor of Cluj-Napoca Municipality (Romania) made these remarks during a European Committee of the Regions (CoR) plenary debate on promoting European democratic values through education to foster EU citizenship. Boc said that the future of the European project depends on quality investment in education. He stressed the need of high quality digital education in Europe. “Education is an investment with long term benefits, it is key to get out of poverty, it has a major role in promoting and defending democracy. Education is a vaccine for populism, intolerance, racism, violence and fake news.”

Apostolos Tzitzikostas, President of the CoR and President of Central Macedonia (Greece) said ” We, the local and regional leaders, and the local and regional authorities (LRAs), play a vital role in promoting European values and encouraging citizens’ participation in democratic processes. These are crucial for countering the multiplying threats to democracy and should form an essential element within education for all EU citizens. These values can also be promoted in education, in a bottom up manner, in full respect of subsidiarity.”

Dubravka Šuica, Vice-President of European Commission for Democracy and Demography said “We want to adapt our democracy to make it fit for the future. This entails looking at our values. We must future proof our democracy making it healthy for people to come together and share their future at all levels, across borders and cultures leaving no one behind.” Šuica added that LRAs and the CoR have been instrumental in bringing the conference to citizens. She said “We can remain close partners, citizens must recognise their input as this gives legitimacy to the conference. We will need you to reach out to citizens to demonstrate that the EU is engaging with their proposals and acting on them. Local councillors are best placed to reach citizens.”

Jelena Drenjanin, EPP-CoR 1st Vice President said “I believe that the mindful exercise of ‘citizenship’ is above all based on a feeling of ownership, trust, and awareness of its own role on society.  I’m convinced that education and employment are the two pillars on which such awareness is rooted.” She added that in order to forge strong and resilient European societies, we need to ensure that education meets more and more the needs of the labour market.

Željko Turk, Mayor of the City of Zaprešić (Croatia) said that education is a key instrument to promote democratic values. Speaking on the role of local authorities as the founder of educational institutions, he shared good practices such as the introduction of civic education which is helping students to develop critical thinking. He called for the theme of European values to be included to such classes and to create a network to share such practices and foster debate.

Danijel Marušić, Member of Brod-Posavina County (Croatia) said ”Encouraging curiosity, courage, inclusion, diversity, participation and solidarity are essential features of progressive dynamic European citizens. We want to encourage and promote the authentic advancement of European values of peace and want to empower citizens to take full part in society to reduce polarisation and address fake news.”

 

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