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.