From the 16th to 21th of November the World Forum for Democracy 2015 was held. This year theme, “freedom vs. control”, was a very hot topic, in particular in view of the Paris terrorist attacks that happened just before the event. More than 2000 representatives, decision-makers and entrepreneurs from all over the world gathered in Strasbourg to think about how to respond to terror and other challenges in a democratic and peaceful manner. Among the participants a group of 75 young delegates from over 57 countries was selected to represent the younger generation. Hannes Verdegem (AFS Belgium Flanders) from the European Pool of Representatives  was one of them.


How to respond to a constantly changing world where every misstep could lead to even more turmoil? Next to some plenary events about mass surveillance, building trust and resilience in diverse societies and media responsibility in this age of terror, a lot of different labs were held on different aspects. Intercultural responses, citizen oversight, privacy, migration policies and democratic accountability are only a handful of the debates that were conducted the 19 different labs trying to respond to this question.

Outside the sessions, the plenitude of side activities, graffiti art and even a performance made the Forum even more a creative melting pot of ideas and initiatives.

But reflection next to reaction is also needed. ‘Journalists should for example continue to engage in investigative journalism but also maintain professional morals and ethics at all time. Civil society should avoid closing down on one narrative and (inter)national institutions should focus more on transparency and accountability.’[1]

One of the most surprising trends was the incredible input from dozens of grass-root projects into the Forum and this was one of its major strengths: the exchange of fresh, innovative ideas of different projects and the optimistic hope that was present made the Forum such a success and a lot more than just roundtable talking.

In the opinion of the youth delegates the overall conclusion was that we don’t have to balance between control and freedom, but that it is compatible and we can have both if managed well: both are needed to protect and prevent any intrusion on the human rights of all.

A lot of things can be said about the World Forum, but if there’s one thing I learned from this experience was that democracy is not a given fact and can disappear as easily if we give in to fear. Or, citing the words of the Secretary-general of the Council of Europe “Terrorists cannot destroy our democracy, but we can.”


For more information about the World Forum for Democracy visit:

For the summary and conclusions of this year’s Forum:

Hannes Verdegem


For more information: [email protected]