Once again, this year the British Youth Council will be taking part in the Christmas Challenge organised by the Big Give. Between 12pm Tuesday 27th November and 12pm Tuesday 4th December, all donations to the British Youth Council will be DOUBLED. For example, if someone gives £25, we’ll receive £50, if someone gives £50, we’ll receive £100 and so on…
We are looking to raise £2,000 which will then be matched to give a grand total of £4,000!!
It would be fantastic to get you involved in the campaign so we can support even more young people across the UK have a voice on issues they care about. Whether you support with a donation or simply by sharing our campaign within your networks, your help in giving young people a voice will be gratefully received.
Please save the date and help us reach our target to continue supporting as many young people as possible! We’ll be posting updates nearer the launch date and let you know how you can double your donation!
With EU funding, Erasmus+, the situations in Hungary and Syria, sustainable development, and Brexit on the agenda, it was of little surprise that the recent General Assembly meeting of the European Youth Forum ran over into the night. However, a very late dinner even by Italian standards was a sacrifice worth making to obtain something which in business and politics alike has as yet to be obtained, a continental consensus on at least some aspects of Brexit. This outcome could only be dreamed for as Lucia and I embarked on the task of creating a politically neutral paper outlining young peoples thoughts about Brexit in October 2017, using qualitative methods to create an ironclad representation of the mood of Britains youth.
The meeting itself, which takes place twice a year, was this time in Brussels and had a focus on the future of Europe with extensive discussion devoted to sustainability and what it meant to be European. At the beginning of the weekend, we were split into discussion groups of EU and non-EU countries, which is simpler said than done from a British perspective. In the end, I decided to venture into the unknown and join Russia, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland etc in the aptly chosen ‘London’ conference room for the non-EU discussion, whereas Lucia joined in with the EU discussions next door. We all agreed that we must protect our planet, democracy and human rights, however I felt some unease in the proposition that programmes should be created to imbue children and young people with a greater sense of European identity. I couldn’t help exchanging ‘European’ with educating young people to be ‘British’ or ‘Scottish’, which in both cases could foster nationalism and a concept of exceptionalism. Really, as a rule we should always treat with extreme caution attempts by those in a position of power should educate young people on how to think politically. Rather than education to be good Europeans, we should focus on educating young people to be good human beings and think critically for themselves.
Before we got to our paper on Brexit, we discussed and voted on a few other quite necessary policy papers which proved considerably more controversial than our own. Weighing in at 56 pages the paper on the next multi-annual financial framework, essentially our ideas for the future budget of the EU, was passed with a commitment to Erasmusx10 and a focus on funding youth organisations. After this came a document on sustainable development which included fiery language concerning private ownership, wage labour, nationalisation, and broken democracy which sought to create a ‘new economy’ to transform the world and change our greedy ways. Certainly, it probably pushed the boundaries of remaining politically and ideologically neutral quite far beyond what would be expected in the UK and elsewhere, and as a result efforts were made to create more friendly language which in most cases succeeded. What concerned me most though were points demanding the education of children and young people in the ‘new economy’ (ending of private ownership, abolition of wage labour etc.) in schools and youth groups, which is as ludicrous an idea as it is dangerous. All in all though the vast majority of this paper had good intentions and sought to improve our relationship with the environment and each other which should always be championed.
Finally, after 3 days of workshops and discussions, already several hours behind schedule, it was time for the Brexit paper to be put before the meeting. Essentially this paper, roughly covers the issues of discrimination, environment, northern Ireland border, an overview of the economy, erasmus+, free movement and our future role in withdrawal negotiations. However, representing young people across the UK both remainers and leavers we kept this paper with feet firmly planted in a space which the vast majority, if not nearly everyone, could agree with. As such, it includes demands such as remaining part of the Erasmus programme, or at very least match the funding it offers, maintain all environmental legislation currently in force or even enhance it, take greater steps to mitigate hate in the aftermath of the referendum, and to place continued peace as the top priority in the resolution of the northern Irish border dispute. But the most crucial point of all, hammered home time and time again in this paper, is that these concerns cannot be filled away and ignored but be listened to and acted upon by our government, and the EU governments, negotiation teams. This strikes at the heart of the reason for this paper being created, chiefly to amplify our voice beyond the saturated lobbying zone of London and across the channel to London where the action really is. However, without the anchorage of the youth forum in Brussels with its networks and expertise, we might as well be shouting it out from the cliffs of Dover. It is for this reason that I am delighted to report, after the controversy of the previous discussions, we were given from Iceland to Azerbaijan, Malta to Finland, a 100% approval for this paper to be taken forward as a motion of support opening the doors for many more exciting things to come both here in the UK and in the rest of Europe. Nevertheless, expectations for what this paper can achieve must be realistic, it is not a manifesto in which we foresee its objectives being ticked off one by one but rather a mission statement. We are young, but we can put forward our views with head as well as heart. If you speak to us, you may well find a new perspective that reinvigorates discussion and ideas, with our presence alone a stark reminder of the damaging repercussions every decision made could have for generations to come.
Commonwealth Youth Forum 2018
After tireless months of planning, late nights and sheer hard work, the Commonwealth Forums and subsequent Heads of Government Meeting is complete! It has been an incredible summit and it’s a shame it’s already over, but now the real work begins: continuing the legacy of CYF 2018.
Before we get to that, though, the Forum! CYF was an opportunity to really discuss issues that countries across the Commonwealth face, and building partnerships with delegates across the 53 member states to achieve a better society. What brings us together are the common problems that we have to address, like climate change.
Climate change has ravaged countries around the world. In fact, the only reason this summit is being hosted by the UK is because floods destroyed the island of Vanuatu. On top of that, species like the snow leopard are becoming extinct, the globe is warming and the Great Barrier Reef is dying. I was really glad the sustainability and blue-green economies formed the cornerstone of CHOGM 2018, because if we don’t look at ourselves in the mirror, then we’re at real risk of totally irreparable damage to the world.
But hey, I promise this blog isn’t too morbid! It was a refreshing experience and truly renewed my optimism towards the future.
The Forum (unofficially) began on Sunday. It was a day facilitated by the National Citizen Service, where delegates were able to explore London and initiate the conversation around issues before the grand opening the next day. Even though I’m from the UK, it was lovely walking around my beautiful city and enjoying its sights, and above all, seeing the looks of amazement on those who had travelled for hours upon hours to be here.
Then came the actual day we had all been looking forward to. I hadn’t been up for 6am in a long time, so this took some getting used to. The UK delegates arrived at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre to listen to keynote speeches for the opening of the Forum, with Prince Harry’s appearance being a highlight. It was amazing to hear him announce himself as the new Ambassador to the Commonwealth; I look forward to him championing that cause. After a day of workshops based on the four pillars of prosperity, sustainability, security and fairness, I attended the Welcome to London reception. Boy, what an event! From foods found across the Commonwealth to stunning performances (a huge shout out to Ellie Goulding) to an appearance out of nowhere by Prince William, it was a great opportunity to meet with delegates from the four forums and connect with other young people a more informal setting. Day 1 really set the precedent for the rest of the week.
Day 2 began with a inter-forum session. Andrew Holness, the Jamaican Prime Minister, delivered a rousing speech, reminding us about the damage that empire has caused globally. This was after the Prime Minister, Theresa May, spoke about the importance of the Commonwealth and how it remains relevant to this day. With pledges for funding to support Commonwealth states and to parts of the youth sector, it was a positive moment for youth empowerment and we’ll be sure to ensure these promises are delivered. And to top it all off, Bill Gates took the stage to point out how far the world has come in terms of child mortality, and how, despite all the horrors that seem to happen daily, we have progressed massively.
In between more insightful sessions, there was the ‘Big Lunch’, which celebrated cultures in the most universal way: food. This continued to a day full of policy planning, where delegates worked together to design ideas to include in the CYF communiqué. It was a pretty busy and exhausting day, but it climaxed with a magical concert hosted by Global Citizen Live. Featuring high-profile speakers such as the former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, the night highlighted the fantastic achievements by charities around the world, and culminated with Emeli Sandé lighting up the stage (also quite literally).
And then came the final day. This was primarily about the General Assembly, where each country’s voting delegates debated policy and procedural motions. It was a momentous moment for many reasons, including the British Overseas Territories obtaining voting rights and also Europe finally getting its own representative on the Commonwealth Youth Council! While the debate got heated, controversial, and outright awkward at times, it was great step forward for young people across the Commonwealth. A personal highlight was the adoption of mental health as a priority for the CYC. The CYC overall adopted policy recommendations that we will use as our basis for the legacy work we plan to do post-CYF, you can check them out here.
See, I love surprises as much as the next person, which basically mean I don’t. But the surprise of being invited to the majestic Sky Gardens to meet the Heads of State and Foreign Ministers of all the 53 Commonwealth countries was pretty unbelievable. It was an incredibly honour to promote ideas regarding young people to figures such as the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Boris Johnson, and the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau; the evening culminated in speaking to the Prime Minister of the UK about climate change and youth entrepreneurship.
And voilà! The curtain call. Sky Gardens brought an end to an exhilarating, draining and bright Forum to launch a drive for a stronger society. I want to say a huge thank you first and foremost to Ellen and Andrea, who made sure Thrinayani and I were fully equipped for the week. The entire Cabinet Office Team working mindblowing hours put in heroic effort to make this all happen, and for that we are incredibly grateful. And finally, a massive amount of appreciation must be placed on the inspirational delegates that attended this Forum in the hope of pursuing a better future for the generations now and to come, with particular praise for the 50 UK delegates who made their respective organisations and us proud.
That’s all from me. Stay tuned with the projects Thrinayani and I develop to continue the legacy of this very significant week. We refuse to let this to be a summit of empty promises and false hope, but rather a turning point for the UK, the Commonwealth and indeed the world.
Namir Rahim Chowdhury
UK Ambassador to the Commonwealth
8am Monday morning. We’ve already been at the QEII for an hour. Delegates are beginning to arrive, and the buzz of excitement and anticipation is rife in the air. That energy fades and is replaced with a crowd of early 20-somethings holding their breath as His Royal Highness Prince Harry is escorted in. But, I’m getting ahead of myself slightly. Rewind to another Monday morning, 7 months earlier; it’s October and another group of 20-somethings are nervously gathered in Marlborough House beginning the talks that will lead us to the Commonwealth Youth Forum (CYF) 2018.
I’m Luke Oliver, I’m 23 and a member of the CYF International Taskforce. Back in October of 2017, I gathered with others to help plan the forum that was then delivered to around 300 delegates from across the Commonwealth. The International Taskforce was made up of about 15 young people because if you want to combat youth issues you can only do that by having youth involved. We were tasked with focusing the forum on four key areas designed to help improve the Commonwealth’s ‘Common Future’; these areas were sustainability, prosperity, fairness & security.
The work began by dividing the Taskforce into three main sub-teams: programmes, policy, and communications. The programmes team began by taking the four pillars as guidelines and then honing them to create areas of interest that affect the youth of the Commonwealth. This meant thinking about cyber security for an ever-growing world; equality for all minorities and acknowledging the richness that those minorities can bring to society, to climate change and the impact that is going to have on us as we inherit the Commonwealth but also the generations of Commonwealth youth to come; cyber security for an ever-growing world. Now, these weren’t thoughts that came from one meeting in October, they were ruminated over many months in the lead up to CHOGM in collaboration with the policy team who listened to the conceptual ideas and then wrote the communique that delegates got to work with, and create action plans for, during the forum. Meanwhile, the communications team aided with campaigns to raise the awareness and engagement of youth in the Commonwealth in the lead up to April.
It’s now April, CHOGM and the Commonwealth Youth Forum are here. All the delegates have arrived and now the work really begins. The forum has been split into two major strands of events: plenaries and break-out sessions. There were four plenaries, one for each pillar, containing young people who are experts in their fields discussing the work they’re doing in their communities across the Commonwealth in the hopes to share success stories, not so successful stories and best practice with the delegates and hopefully impart knowledge on how delegates can better improve their own communities. The second strand was the break-out sessions. This is where the 300 delegates were given the chance to be at the heart of affecting change and policy for the tens of millions of youth across the Commonwealth who couldn’t attend. This meant creating action plans for the policies which had been drafted in the communique. If the policy was ‘more funding for youth entrepreneurships’ the actions plans may have discussed ways in which young people can access that funding. Both strands played a vital role in the forum, the plenaries were the calls to action and provided examples of the differences this year’s wave of delegates could make; the break-out sessions then created a space for the delegates to be instrumental in the way policy jargon can become physical change in communities across the world.
The three days of the forum became a productive blur with very little let up. On the Wednesday night, the action plans were added to the communique and then forwarded to all of the Heads of Governments from across the Commonwealth to discuss in the meetings at Windsor Castle. The youth agenda is usually something that is tokenistic and discussed in brief by middle-aged senior ministers. So, to be able to say that youth have been at the heart of this year’s CHOGM and the Commonwealth’s future is extremely special and something that I and all involved are tremendously proud to have achieved.
But it’s up to you! If you attended you have tools now to go back and implement change. If you didn’t attend there’s heaps online you can access to see exactly what happened behind the four walls of the QEII or contact people who did go, pick their brains about how they can lead you to make a difference too.
Luke Oliver, International Taskforce Communications Team
EU Youth Conference – Sofia, Bulgaria!
Myself, Susie and Lucy, the three UK Young Ambassadors for Structured Dialogue and European Policy, have just returned from the second EU Youth Conference of this cycle in sunny Sofia, Bulgaria. We really enjoyed doing some constructive work with colleagues from across Europe, and are pleased to present the eleven European Youth Goals.
We arrived at our hotel on Monday, and met with old friends from our last conference, and new and friendly faces as people gradually arrived over the day. Those assembled included youth delegates representing nations from each EU member state, as well as representatives of the Eastern Partnership countries and the Western Balkans, along with delegates from International Youth NGOs, and from Government Youth Ministries around Europe. Upon arrival we unpacked and settled into the hotel, and were offered a walking tour of Sofia, where we got to check out some of the cities historical buildings and roman ruins, and make the most of the great weather! We then headed back to the hotel for dinner, and an early night before we officially began work.
We were up early on Tuesday, and were transferred to our main work space for the week, Sofia’s beautiful National Palace of Culture. The opening of the conference included a number of interesting speakers from across the world of Youth Policy – including Bulgaria’s deputy Prime Minister, the Minister for Youth and Sports, UNICEF regional director for Europe and Central Asia, and the UN Regional Director for Human Rights. They provided thoughts and insight into the work of the Conference, and on the future of young people in Europe. We then heard from the Structured Dialogue research team about the outcomes of the research that the delegates had completed in preparation for the conference, and we heard their observations regarding the data produced – which was very helpful! They talked about what we had heard from young people across Europe, and that an amazing 50,000 young people had contributed to our research. Later in the day we split into eleven working groups based on the research so that we could begin to develop our Youth Goals, and began work as a committee on these issues. I worked with the Education group, Susie went to Mental Health, and Lucy worked on Information and Dialogue. That evening we had dinner, and enjoyed a wonderful Bulgarian cultural experience that included traditional music, singing and dancing, and a few delegates dancing by the end as well!
The bulk of our work happened on Wednesday, which mostly involved knuckling down and working hard in our working groups to fully analyse the research outcomes on our area of focus. This included discussions of our national and European data, and led to each group creating a goal for European youth, along with 5-7 key targets. These goals have now officially been launched, and are available for viewing at www.youthgoals.eu! For an overview, check out this video.
On Thursday we began with reflection on the work we had done, with presentations by the finalising team and a launch of the European Youth Goals, before closing the conference with panels and speeches by yet more fascinating speakers. This included the European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, the UN Special Envoy on Youth, the President of the European Youth Forum, and Bulgaria’s Prime Minister. After lunch we said our goodbyes, and made our way to the airport, a little exhausted, but proud of the work we had done.
We hope you will take the time to have a look at the European Youth Goals, and that they reflect the future that young people want to see for themselves!
Given that the Young Ambassadors are building research on the issues that young people find important for the future, we thought it would be a good idea to let people know what we got up to at our last conference in Tallinn, Estonia!
We arrived in Estonia on a chilly Monday afternoon in Tallinn after a long day of travel. Everyone there was a little wiped out after travelling from all across Europe; with representatives being sent from every EU nation, along with Switzerland, and the Eastern Partnership countries, many opening conversations began with comparisons of our travel hours! We began the conference with a dinner to welcome everyone, and give us an opportunity to meet with our fellow delegates, before a relatively early night, so we were all prepared to begin work in the morning.
The next morning we had breakfast, and then travelled to the conference centre, the amazing Tallinn Creative hub – or Kultuurikatel. It was a really cool and interesting workspace that was set in the former Tallinn City Central Power Station, and provided a great backdrop for our work. The conference opened with a brief speech from Jüri Ratas, Estonia’s Prime Minister, who gave a warm welcome to all the delegates, then was followed by a panel discussion which included fascinating speakers, such as the Head of Estonia’s European Commission representation, and the president of the European Youth Forum. Next came a video welcome from the Chair of the Committee on Culture and Education of the European Parliament.
After this we went through the structure of the conference, then were given space to work in both small groups and on larger panels to discuss the issues that effect young people in our home nations and organisations. This was a fascinating discussion that allowed us to discuss the common issues effecting young people, along with our more specific issues on a national level. We finished working on this around half five, and after conference closing, we headed back to the hotel. We met with our fellow delegates again that evening for dinner and a performance by Estonian musician NOËP, which was a really cool experience!
The next day we had some reflection on what had been done the day before, which then led to our developing a number of issues which were prominent and emerged as important. Based on these, we self-organised into committees to discuss these issues in greater depth. I spent the day with a group that discussed mobility within Europe, and the Erasmus+ programme, which was an interesting and productive discussion. The content of these discussions was then collected and submitted to the conference research team. That night we had dinner and a reception in the Sea Plane Harbour museum, which was a stunning and fascinating venue. Before we ate there was a greeting speech from Kersti Kaljulaid, the current President of Estonia, who spoke to us about young people’s issues in Europe, as well as the Estonian presidency of the European Council, and we were delighted that she joined us. There was then a wonderful performance from Estonian musician IIRIS.
The next morning concluded the conference, and the conference researchers took us through their discoveries and conclusions from the past two days. We then had an insightful Q&A with Tibor Navracsics, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, before the official hand over to the Bulgarian representation, who are hosting the next conference in April. We all had lunch before delegates began peeling off to get airport transfers, though those of us with some time left in Estonia took the opportunity to explore the beautiful city of Tallinn before finally heading home for some rest.
It was a packed and busy schedule, but we all gained some fascinating insights and were able to make important contributions. We are looking forward to building up our research and hearing what young people around the UK feel are the most important issues for them before our next conference
Bronagh Hughes, UK Youth Ambassador for Structured Dialogue and European Policy
On the 1st of December, It was a great honour to be able to have an opportunity to take part in the House of Lords chamber event. I would like to sincerely thank the Royal Commonwealth Society for the invitation.
The debate involved young people from around the UK as well as members of civic organisations, coming together for an intergenerational debate on international relations in the 21st century. Participants could stand in favour of one of three motions, each taking a particular angle on the debate:
- The UK should aim to work closely with the Commonwealth, European countries, the EU and global partners to achieve common regional aims.
- The UK should aim to be a global leader.
- The UK should keep the affairs of other countries at a distance and focus on its own problems.
I was fortunate to receive an opportunity to be selected to speak by The Rt Hon. Lord Fowler. I spoke for the first motion and advocated for the UK working with other countries to achieve regional aims. The following is my speech within the House of Lords:
I chose to stand for the position of UK Young Ambassador to the Commonwealth and work to raise UK Youth Voice within the Commonwealth as I strongly feel that Britain should work with the Commonwealth and other global partners in order to create positive change through collaboration, this is why I am advocating for motion one.
The Commonwealth embodies almost a third of the world’s population and is predominantly made up of young people, where over 60% are aged under 30. With such a strong network, bursting with refreshing, rich and diverse thoughts, why shouldn’t we harness this opportunity to work together to achieve regional aims?
The UK will be hosting the Commonwealth Youth Forum for the first time in history this April 2018 and the Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting will be held after. This provides the greatest opportunity for the UK to move forward, challenge ideas and be challenged, as well as working with a vibrant group of Commonwealth Nations to discuss prosperity, sustainability, fairness and security. Unity is the biggest strength, which is why I believe that the UK working closely with the Commonwealth, EU and other global partners will be the right choice. Thank you.
Overall the debate was great to be involved with and it was amazing to hear a diverse range of thoughts as well as inspiring and thought-provoking words from the participants. I had a fantastic experience and would like to thank the Royal Commonwealth Society, UK Young Ambassadors and the British Youth Council for this opportunity.
To watch the whole debate, please visit the link: https://www.facebook.com/UKHouseofLords/videos/1551446634941404/
Thank you for reading.
UK Young Ambassador to the Commonwealth.
For decades the British Youth Council have been fighting for 16 and 17 year olds to be given the right to vote in all elections and referenda in the UK.
This vital step, which has already been tried and tested in Scotland to fantastic success, would not only represent greater equality before the law, but catalyse through the ballot box much that would improve the lives of young people. On this most of those reading this article will likely agree, but it is clear from our limited success that new ideas must be found and where better to look than among the countless youth organisations across Europe who have already succeeded. To find out more I attended the ‘#YouthUp politics: vote at 16 and rebooting democracy’ conference in Tallinn, Estonia, to listen to the experiences of others across the continent, and also share our own experiences in the UK. In what is becoming a regular ritual thanks to my remote address, it began with me braced, penguin-like, against the 4am Scottish winds, trying not to think of the St. Andrews to Edinburgh to Manchester to Helsinki to Tallinn odyssey that lay before me. My expectations were mixed, fair to say I wasn’t convinced we would reboot democracy, but surely the combined experience and thought-power of dozens of different organisations and nations could produce a new formula for success. Sadly, I must report no such formula was found, though there are promising signs for the future, and lessons to be learnt at home.
Firstly, it was encouraging to hear of countries which have already lowered the voting age in Europe, among the very first in the world to do so. Notably, and part of the reason the conference was taking place in Tallinn, Estonia has recently lowered the voting age. As a country it is at the forefront of complex voting reforms, alongside the vote at 16 also adopting online voting for national elections. The change, even before the election, has changed the political dynamic of the small baltic nation as politicians are reaching out to young people to find out what they want. It also seems, even before the election on the 15th October, that this is not a new voting demographic whose top issues are more skate parks and lower school hours, but that they are politically savvy and determined to secure their futures. Austria, a country which has had the vote at 16 since 2008, was also represented and talked of a shake-up in their politics too. However they warned all to take heed of their mistakes since, as since 2008 voter turn out for the new age group has consistently dropped, showing that after lobbying 650 MPs to back the vote, BYC must then step up to also lobby 2 million young people to take up the opportunity.
This conferences true success for me though was not generating ideas, but laying bare the problems which seem systemic throughout Europe’s remarkably similar campaigns. An identifiable absence which I feel must be highlighted is something you would imagine we as young people would exploit as an asset – humour. Look to social media, viral marketing campaigns, our recent general elections and referenda and it is humour which engages young people and sends out the message in an engaging and relatable and powerful way. What we, across all of Europe, are doing now is transforming an exciting proposition into a topic which is distant, repetitive, serious and dry being peddled by people mimicking the language and look of politicians. As long as this continues, the vast body of the people we claim to represent will remain dormant, and only a small, impassioned few will be left to take the fight to an opponent far larger than themselves. In the United Kingdom we seem to be making progress, but across much of continental Europe, greater satirisation of politics is a necessity to keep people informed, engaged and bring politics into everyday life. If this conference were a showcase for the future, rebooted democracy in Europe, though inspirational in displaying the work of the impassioned few, it would cause concern among even the most ardent of democrats in failing to engage the disillusioned majority.
Furthermore, it became apparent at this conference, as I have seen at all others, that across Europe youth organisations are determined to merge all young people into a great unspeaking blob with all views and opinions exactly aligned to that of the organisation. Almost in every passing statement you will hear “Young People in Europe want…” and “Young People of my city believe…” but this simply constitutes tyranny of the majority and is the antithesis of what the vote at 16 really represents. We need to escape from the view of ‘Young People’ with a capital Y and capital P, ditch the idea of a whole generation speaking with only one voice, and instead embrace the beautiful diversity of thought which we encompass. Freedom, opinion, debate – that is the true essence of Vote at 16 which we must harness.
Despite these problems, I firmly believe that we are steadily moving closer and closer to our own goals and can soon serve at the vanguard of the fight across the rest of Europe. It is imperative, especially as populism and hate seeks to divide us, that we stand in solidarity with those who are also seeking what is right. After Tallinn, though democracy may not have been rebooted, it is clear we stand united in the common goal of vote at 16 and hope that as one nation gains it, another and another and another will follow.
Ewan McCall United Kingdom Young Ambassador to the European Youth Forum
BBC+ is a cooperation of the European Youth Forum (YFJ), standing for Bodensee, Benelux Cooperation+.
We meet twice a year officially, in a host country where young people from the member National Youth Councils (NYCs) discuss their country’s activities and write and form amendments to both their own and European Youth Forum documents.
Upon arrival we were given a tour of the beautiful city of Nyon, a short train ride from Geneva. The surrounding area was beautiful, and we caught our first glimpse of the famous Lake Geneva, an incredible stretch of water illuminated by the glowing street lights.
Once we had arrived at the beautiful Château de Monteret hidden in the Swiss hills, we began working on the tasks of the conference. I felt so lucky to be working somewhere with such a beautiful view; the cold was a small price to pay for waking up to a view of the snowy alps every day.
Led by Janine, a member of the Swiss Youth Council, BBC+’s Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was updated and amended according to new BBC+ members and changes in the system.
The organisation IGLYO ran a consultation on the experience of LGBTQI individuals in society today. This lasted for two days and gave a thorough insight into both the struggles faced by these individuals as well as the actions we can take to help make our own organisations more inclusive. The most memorable activity involved small groups acting out a scenario given, which was to include as many surprises as possible. This was a very humorous and inventive activity that many groups pledged to take home and run themselves. Each NYC had to evaluate their own Youth Council’s work regarding inclusivity and wrote down three ways in which they could improve upon this when they returned home. We are lucky in the British Youth Council to have many policies in place, but we discussed having separate campaigns in regard to these specific issues, and also to reach out to those member groups of the BYC to ask if there were any other ways we could engage their young people further.
Each of the 13 National Youth Councils as well as Non-NYC members from Hungary, Ireland and Switzerland gave a brief update on the work they were currently undertaking in their home countries. The BYC’s updates included our submission for an amendment for a name change, which induced a lively discussion and led to a further plan to meet at the YFJ Council of Members to finalise the new name.
Across the two days we worked on two YFJ papers, Erasmus+ and involving minority groups, writing our feedback and amendments for each. Splitting into two groups we engaged in incredibly detailed and informative discussions that allowed us to share ideas and make amendments.
The Advisory Council on Youth of the Council of Europe is a co-management structure initiated by the Council of Europe. One of their members, Zuzana, gave us updates on the works of the council, and their plans for the next year.
Before catching our flights home, we met up with former UKYA and current AC member Pegah, who showed us to the UN building and caught me up with aspects of working as a UK Young Ambassador, for which I was very grateful. It is clear that I have very big shoes to fill!
I would like to end by thanking the Swiss Youth for their incredible hospitality and kindness over the four days, and to all the BBC+ members for making the conference so welcoming and enjoyable.
Lucia Jones, UK Young Ambassador to European Youth Forum
“Young people just don’t care about politics.” This cliché gets rehashed all the time, but is it actually true? Sure, we can’t always believe stats, but let’s have a look at them anyway.
In 2010, 43% (Reality Check: Has there been a surge in youth turnout?) of young people turned out to vote. It was even lower 5 years before that, with figures around 36% being cited. That’s scarily low, especially when you compare it the overall turnout of 61% in 2005 and 65% in 2010. Let’s get more recent and contrast a 43% (General Election 2017: YouGov Figures) young people to a 78% for over 65s turnout (with an overall of 66%) in the 2015 election. From a voting perspective, younger voices are being drowned out by older people, who vote in droves. And that means the older population has more of an influence, which means political parties shape their policies to cater for that, at the cost of younger generations, because there’s only so much money to spend (no “magic money tree”, right?)
And here we see a vicious cycle. I won’t go further into the reasons of why young people don’t vote because there are other pieces who do that a lot better than I can do it (check out this article on some of the reasons Apathy or Antipathy?). But I’m really tired of our apparent apathy with politics and the use of voter turnout stats to justify that. It didn’t used to be like this. In 1974, when the Wombats, Lego and package holidays to Spain were cool, 70% (Highest number of young people turnout) of young people voted. That would be unheard of today (sorry to disappoint, but the 72% figure thrown around after the 2017 election are very likely untrue). Now I’m not saying “let’s go back to the glory days of the 1970s”, rather the opposite! But maybe it’s not that we don’t care about politics, but we just get involved in a different way.
We are just as likely to engage in ‘social issues’ and to volunteer in grassroots campaigning, especially political rallies. We sign petitions, we discuss politics. It seems like we’ve come to the conclusion (I hate to homogenise an entire generation, but for simplicity, hear me out) that voting changes little, but that doesn’t mean we can’t change anything. There is more to democracy than voting. Young people across the world are starting to question whether democracy really is the best form of rule, but that’s a topic for another day.
This is a sentiment shared by much of the Nordic area. I was invited to a Summit on Democracy and Democratic Exclusion in Norway last week, where we discussed solutions to this voter apathy, but the unanimous idea that democracy is not limited to voting came up again and again.
The conference only lasted a day, situated pretty close to the gorgeous city of Oslo, yet I learned a lot and hopefully contributed. What was striking was that when turnout falls below 90%, these Nordic countries begin entire investigations, while the UK seems almost content with around 60%. Is this just a difference in culture, or something much deeper?
Mock elections are very popular, and even compulsory, in these countries, and they have shown to be very effective in creating interest in politics among young people. Really, really effective. They’re seen as a bit of a joke in the UK, but if done properly, they could really jump up our 18-25 voter turnout.
Above all, it was really insightful to hear about the perspectives of these Nordic young people through panel discussions and workshops on such a topical and troubling phenomenon. They’ll be relayed back to the UK and hopefully we can implement some of them. After all, if we don’t take some initiative and change things, then who will?