Last month, the European Youth Forum held its first ever virtual General Assembly. Two hundred young people representing one hundred different organisations from across Europe met to debate policy papers, admit new members, and elect a new European Youth Forum board. I had the honour of being nominated by the British Youth Council to stand in the elections and after a long, intense period of sharing my vision, I am delighted to say that I was elected!
The international team at the British Youth Council must take much credit for this success; their support and encouragement has been incredible. I will serve a two-year term to will work with the newly elected board and lead the European Youth Forum. The board is responsible for the organisation, we represent the Forum externally to organisations like the European Union and the United Nations and decide the Forum’s strategic direction in consultation with our member organisations. I stood in these elections because I believe there are significant internal changes the European Youth Forum needs to make. We need to utilise our immense capacity as the world’s largest network of youth organisations, and our ability to create the change we want to see in the world.
I also believe young people should be at all levels of decision making. The board of the European Youth Forum has typically been made up of people in their mid to late twenties, meaning Europeans of my generation have not had a representative. When my term begins on January 1st 2021, I will be the youngest board member and one of the youngest in the Forum’s history at 19 years of age. I finally believe that as the Brexit transition period ends, young people in the UK must maintain representation in Europe. I hope that having a voice on the board of one of Europe’s most influential youth organisations will help to achieve that.
As I write this, the UK is 35 days away from the end of the Brexit transition period. Nothing will fully substitute our EU membership, but my new role will enable me to represent the views and needs of young people in the UK within European circles. The European Youth Forum is extremely concerned about the consequences of Brexit for both young people in the UK and the EU, particularly in relation to Erasmus+. Since 2014, £900m of funding has been distributed from the EU to UK Erasmus+ projects, with over 930,000 young people involved in these projects. In 2017, 16,561 UK students travelled to the EU through Erasmus funding, while 31,727 EU nationals came to the UK. If Brexit negotiations conclude at midnight on December 31st without an agreement on the UK’s continued participation in Erasmus (which seems likely) then we will lose the quite incredible benefits it has provided us. At the European Youth Forum’s General Assembly last month, we voted in favour of a motion to back the extension of Erasmus+ to non-EU members. We will continue campaigning for this so that young people in the UK might again benefit from the enormous educational, social and cultural benefits that Erasmus+ has given previous generations.
The next few years are going to challenge everyone. The triple threat of our current economic crisis, the implications of Brexit, and the looming climate crisis means that life is going to be quite different not just for the next few months, but for decades to come. This is why it is crucially important for the European Youth forum to connect, to empower and to provide a platform for other organisations and for young leaders so they can advocate, campaign and lead others in pursuit of a world. A world that is more equitable, respectful, and caring. I want to show by example that having young people in positions of leadership can be of immense value; my hope is that more and more young people will be encouraged and inspired to become leaders in their own communities and that more and more organisations will support and invest in young leaders as the British Youth Council and the European Youth Forum have supported and invested in me.