Between the 30th of November – the 2nd of December 2022 Osaro Otobo, the British Youth Council’s Deputy Chair, and I travelled to Berlin, Germany to attend a special youth conference titled “Democracy and human rights in times of crisis – the contribution of young people in Europe”. Jointly organised by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the German National Youth Council and the German Bundestag, the event brought together 60 youth representatives from 25 countries. Alongside this, it also brought together several members of the Council of Europe’s Advisory Council on Youth – a group belonging to the Council’s Youth Department and which works with government representatives under a co-management structure.
To start the event, the organisers kindly took us to the Reichstag building – the site of the German Bundestag – for a welcome tour. Without sounding like an architecture nerd, the building’s unique blend of 1880s architecture with its contemporary features had me in awe. This was best exemplified by the stunning modern glass dome that sits on top of this historical building.
Following the tour, we headed for lunch, where we were presented with some delicious German food and an opportunity to meet all the participants.
The next morning, we returned to the Bundestag to start the day’s events. After some introductory remarks by Frank Schwabe, Head of Germany’s Parliamentary Assembly to the Council of Europe, and various other notaries, we split into three thematic working groups (conflict, shrinking civic spaces, and health).
Having selected the group focused on shrinking civic spaces, we began by discussing what each of our National Youth Councils is doing to tackle this issue. In mentioning the British Youth Council’s UN Youth Delegate campaign I made it clear that beyond creating more pathways for young people to become politically engaged, it was vital to ensure that youth voices are meaningfully empowered. This point fed into our broader discussion on how to avoid “youth-washing”.
Following a brief break for lunch, we returned to the plenary where we met and asked questions to a broad range of Bundestag Members. After a healthy exchange of ideas, we returned to our groups where we began writing a set of recommendations to then present back at plenary.
We concluded the day with a special reception at the German Bundestag. To add the cherry on top, it was refreshing to see so many high-profile Bundestag Members attend and show a genuine interest in what we had to say! Osaro had this to say about the event:
This trip to Berlin has further highlighted to me the importance of our international work. All young people of the world deserve to live in societies that truly value them. Although we are no longer in the European Union, we still are represented through the Council of Europe. It is critical we continue to have strong ties to the rest of Europe and that youth councils everywhere can work together towards a common good for young people.Osaro Otobo, the British Youth Council’s Deputy Chair
On the last day of the conference, we held an interactive session where we agreed on a follow-up process for our recommendations to be carried out.
Berlin proved not only to be a valuable opportunity to exchange ideas on how individual Council of Europe member states can better empower young people in the field of human rights, but it also proved to be an eye-opening opportunity to learn more about the remarkable and innovative work of the Advisory Council.
To end, I thought I would share two quotes which have been on my mind since leaving Berlin:
Revitalising democracy is an intergenerational effort.Council of Europe
A politician is working for the next election. A statesperson is working for the next generation.James Freeman Clarke