Essay prize Beyond Decline

Today's young adults are convinced that their society is falling apart and is in a spiral of decline. The vast majority of them believe that the opportunity to have a good life in a good society is slipping away.

Nine out of ten young adults expect that companies will increasingly move to low-wage economies, that pensions and unemployment benefits will decrease and that global warming will lead to ever more disasters. Eight out of ten young adults expect that they will have to work harder for less, that employers will take on more cheap foreign labour, that people will have less job security and that inequality will increase. Seven out of ten expect that there will be more unemployment, that those fortunate enough to have a job will have to work in poor conditions, that more and more people will need two jobs to make ends meet, that large groups of Muslims will not integrate, that relations between Europeans and Muslims will become violent, that more and more people will be the victims of terrorism…

Whether there actually is a decline affecting Europe and the West and whether this decline, if it exists, is unavoidable and irrevocable is the subject of much debate. However, whether or not the decline is real and, where appropriate, unavoidable, the belief in decline, the narrative of decline, has far-reaching consequences. A detailed description of this belief and its consequences can be found in Beyond the Narrative of Declinism (published in Dutch and French only), written by Mark Elchardus (LannooCampus). The belief in decline, declinism, is an important, perhaps even the most important, cause of insecurity. It makes people uncertain and anxious. It makes them look for scapegoats, it makes them intolerant and vulnerable to a populist policy of exclusion and malaise.

That's where the Essay prize Beyond (the Narrative of) Decline comes in. The prize will be awarded for well researched, well-argued and clearly written essays which make a convincing case in one or more of the following areas:

  • refuting the narrative of decline, demonstrating that there is no decline;
  • working on the assumption that decline exists but demonstrating how it can be averted;
  • explaining how our society and our social model can tackle the big challenges, and demonstrating how a good society and a good life can be aspired to and achieved;
  • demonstrating how society can regain control of politics to allow people to realise their dreams for the future;
  • showing how the spread of the belief in decline can be held in check and how the consequences of this belief can be tackled.

The essays may touch on all aspects of decline, although this is not a requirement. They can also be more specific in their approach, dealing with well-defined aspects of the belief in decline, well-defined forms of decline or with specific challenges faced by our society.

Two essays (one in Dutch and one in French) will be selected and will each win a prize of EUR 2,500. The authors of each of these essays will explain their work in a debate which will be held in the spring, probably in May 2016 in Brussels.


View the rules here (in Dutch and French only).



  • 6 October 2015: launch of call for essays
  • 6 January 2016: deadline for submission of essays
  • April 2016 : announcement of the results to the laureates
  • May 2016 : debate with the laureates


Innovative ideas or projects?

Don't want or have time to write an essay but have ideas about how to counteract declinism or you're involved in a project that's trying to find a positive solution to the challenges facing society? Describe your idea or project in no more than 200 words and send this to The best ideas, projects etc. will be featured regularly on our website and be will rewarded with a  Fnac's gift card of 30 euro.