From 5th-6th March 2022, I attended a special consultation session of the European Youth Forum (YFJ) in Brussels. The meeting was centered on the issue of statutory reforms, which given a change in Belgian law, required changing. As a result, the YFJ convened a special consultation with members to discuss the changes proposed by the Board.
The trip itself began with an early arrival into Brussels. Shortly after arriving at the conference venue, I made my way into the dining hall, where the delegates were treated to an amazing buffet for lunch. As I soon found out, lunch proved to be the perfect introduction to the other delegates and allowed us to get to know each other. After all, nothing says diplomacy more than quite literally breaking bread with the other delegates.
After lunch, the delegates proceeded to the plenary room where we prepared for the day’s session. Yet again, the plenary room proved to be another great opportunity to network with the other delegates, most notably among them: Tom Matthew, my predecessor as UKYA and now YFJ Board Member, whom I had the pleasure of finally meeting in person!
First up on the agenda was a discussion on Ukraine, with a brief introductory speech from Natalia, the representative of the National Youth Council of Ukraine (NYCU). Hearing Natalia’s heart-wrenching story – someone who herself had fled Kyiv a couple of days after the invasion began – was an eye-opener, and one that nearly brought the entire room to tears. Although Natalia’s story was a depressing moment of realization, it was humbling to see the sheer amount of support and solidarity expressed among all the delegates at Natalia’s bravery and her call for action. This was shown again and again in moving remarks made by several of the delegates during the Q&A session that followed.
After concluding the segment on Ukraine, we turned to the statutory agenda, where we began with a walk-through of the Board’s proposals by the YFJ’s chief legal counsel. After a brief plenary discussion, we were then split into groups where we discussed some of the key sections being proposed. Chief among them, we discussed the revised membership categories and the proposed remuneration of the YFJ President. Following a summary of each group’s views on the proposed changes, we then proceeded to another discussion on how members can help Ukraine – this time looking at the issue from three different levels: national, regional, international. After a hard day’s work and yet another lovely meal, the delegates were treated to a karaoke night along with some foosball.
On the Sunday, we began by returning to our working groups, to discuss the other sections of the statutory agenda. From issues such as whether to keep the current majoritarian voting system used to elect the Board and the Advisory Council or replace it with a more proportional voting system; to discussing the composition and format of our two annual statutory meetings, there was a lot of fruitful discussions and debates that were had. Upon finishing our group discussions, we made our way back to the plenary room for the final discussion on the statutes. Having been chosen as one of my group’s rapporteurs, I presented the findings of my group and our overall conclusions in front of the Board and the wider plenary. After hearing each group’s presentations, the Board announced that the timeline for the statutory review would be extended to accommodate for greater debate and deliberation over some of the more contentious issues where the delegates were split on. And with that the statutory consultation session was officially over.
Prior to leaving the conference venue, many of the delegates joined a lunchtime discussion on Ukraine with Natalia to once again talk over strategy and how we can best help everyday Ukrainians who are suffering.
Looking back, not only was the conference productive in terms of finding solutions to both the statutory issue and the Ukraine crisis; but it also gave me a great insight into how the YFJ functions, and some of the amazing people that work within it. All in all, I could not have asked for a more perfect introduction in what was my first YFJ conference!