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The aim of this academic symposium was to provide an answer to the question whether “youth quotas” offer a solution to changes in age demographics and a looming gerontocracy. Based on the premise that young people have the potential to act as change agents, especially with regard to ecological sustainability, it was our aim to stimulate a societal discussion and to raise public awareness on the topic of youth quotas, whilst providing the discussion with a scientific basis.
The question of a power shift between generations is already discussed in many facets in the literature. Many commentators state that a shift is already visible and that the problem requires careful political management. In light of this, the implementation of youth quotas could be a possible method of protecting the interests of younger generations in politics and beyond. The symposium was investigating a topic that is greatly under-researched.
Some key questions to be addressed at the symposium were: Should youth quotas be limited to the political arena (political parties, parliaments, etc.) or should they also be implemented in other fields (economic activity, companies, associations, organisations, etc.)? Can youth quotas ensure that a greater sense of urgency is applied to the problem-solving process of future concerns like global warming? Can young people really be relied upon to represent the interests of the young generation as a whole, or will they just follow their own individual interests? Are youth quotas in general an effective instrument to strengthen the rights of the young generation or do we need other and more effective instruments?
Intense debates arose over the question of whether or not youth quotas are an effective means to strengthen the rights of future generations. Some junior researchers suggested that young people can be thought of as the “trustees of posterity” as they tend to be fiercer defenders of long-termist policies, especially regarding the environment, since the environmental crisis will have a more concrete impact on their lifespan. But other speakers rejected the causality that young people will have a stronger determination to solve future problems, or will necessarily add a new “young” perspective in the epistemic process of finding solutions to future problems. The indication of these latter speakers was that environmental issues are not the top priority of young people.
Regarding the composition of party lists, one speaker pointed to the problem of legitimacy in the outcome of an election. The positive discrimination of youth within a societal group has to be justified because other groups could feel disadvantaged by the implementation of such a strong instrument. Some speakers challenged the analogy of youth quotas to quotas for women or ethnic minorities, because women and ethnic minorities can’t change their status whereas today’s young people, in the normal course of life, will be old in the future. This means that the disadvantage of a person in his or her young age is just temporal. Generational effects were pitted against age effects in this context.
Some experts pointed to alternatives to youth quotas. In their view, lowering the voting age and better political education in schools, especially, would produce better results. Another proposed strategy was the implementation of proxy votes for the parents.
A vote at the end of the symposium sparked interesting results. Although several reservations were noted, most of the speakers voted for the implementation of youth quotas. All speakers voted for lowering the voting age. The conclusion reached by this academic symposium was that a package of measures is required to give adequate answers to demographic change. Youth quotas could be part of this package. The organisers planned to publish the outcomes of the symposium in an anthology ((April 2015): Youth Quotas and other Efficient Forms of Youth Participation in Ageing Societies. Berlin/Heidelberg: Springer).
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