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
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?
On the 16th of November I flew to Gothenburg, Sweden to attend the EU Social Summit as part of the European Youth Forum Delegation. On the Thursday, the Youth Forum met to discuss our aims and the topics for the next day, and I attended a fringe event hosted by the Social Platform at the Museum of Culture.
The next day, I woke up early and after having breakfast, we all got on coaches to take us to the event (they were police escorted and they closed parts of the motorway!). We went through security and through to the conference room where the event was being held. Firstly, we listened to speeches from the Swedish Prime Minister, Stefan Löfven, and the President of the European Commission, Jean Claude Junker. They opened the conference and outlined the last Social Summit, held 20 years ago, discussing the need for a continued emphasis on ‘Fair Jobs and Growth’ in the EU.
We then listened to a panel discussion, involving the President of the European Youth Forum, and the Prime Minister of Estonia, Jüri Ratas, amongst others.
After a coffee break, the conference then went into three different working sessions, on how to promote fair jobs and growth in the future. I attended a session titled ‘In between jobs: supporting transition’ along with Prime Ministers and Presidents from France, Norway, Luxembourg, Portugal, Greece, Belgium, Hungary and Estonia. I spoke about how improving the labour market starts with education and young people: ‘Young people need to be educated on their rights within the workplace, to ensure a safer, fairer and more productive labour market. Young people also need to be equipped with the adaptable and transferable skills that are required for the new digital jobs and careers, as they develop. This will not only improve the current labour market, but also the future.’
To finish the day, the President of the European Commission, and the Swedish Prime Minister, made their closing remarks, and then, along with the Estonian Prime Minister, as Estonia is the current Presidency of the Council of Europe, they signed the European Pillar of Social Rights. This is about ‘delivering new and more effective rights for citizens’. It builds on 20 key principles structured around equal opportunities and access to the labour market, fair working conditions, and social protection and inclusion.
I was very honoured to attend this conference and represent BYC, and I had a phenomenal time. It was an incredible experience flying to Gothenburg and attending an EU Summit. I had the opportunity to listen to Heads of Government from all across the EU, and it was amazing being able to have photos with and talk to the president of France, Emmanuel Macron, the Swedish Prime Minister, and the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May.
If you would like to watch my speech in the working session, it is available below:
As an American student studying in London, I’ve greatly appreciated my experiences as an international participation volunteer with the British Youth Council. For most of October, I worked on organising the logistics for a residential that brought together organisations from across the UK to design a research plan for the upcoming Structured Dialogue consultations. Lucy, Susie, and Bronagh, our UK Young Ambassadors for Structured Dialogue and European Policy, are tasked with conducting research on young people’s opinions about the future of Europe. In order to develop a robust research plan, we consulted our National Working Group Wider Sector Network (NWG WSN) for perspectives from all over the UK.
In planning this event, we were tasked with getting our UKYAs and all our WSN representatives to London for two days. I was mainly in charge of reserving hotel rooms, booking flights, and buying train tickets while communicating constantly with our participants about their involvement in the Structured Dialogue process. To structure our two days of planning, we brought in Dr. Sam Mejias, a researcher from the London School of Economics. On Friday, Sam gave us all the tools we needed to answer our research questions successfully. Through interactive activities and group work, Sam’s training allowed us to have a rough idea of our research design to bring into day two. Afterwards, I loved getting to know everyone more over dinner at Old Fountain near our offices.
Bright and early Saturday morning, we started with the actual design for our research. Split into two groups, we each developed our own proposal for our ideal research plan. Although our plans differed in some details, we all agreed that focus groups in combination with a survey would be great for getting a large amount data for our report. Throughout the day we coordinated focus groups across the UK, targeting urban and rural areas. We also determined that an online survey would reach a larger community outside of those that we’d be observing in focus groups. Although it felt like a big undertaking, we were able to solidify two research plans as options for our Young Ambassadors to choose from before presenting to the National Working Group members. By the end of the day, our UK Young Ambassadors had approval from the National Working Group members to proceed with their research. Now, we are beginning the early phases of implementation of our research plan!
I’ve really enjoyed my time with the British Youth Council, and I’m excited that I was able to contribute to the Structured Dialogue process!
Being elected was an incredible moment for Thrinayani and I, but now it’s time to start our work. We travelled to Cardiff Bay for a residential, where we explored what it meant to be the UK Young Ambassadors to the Commonwealth, and what we intended to do for our term.
It was exciting to see the potential that young people have within the context of the Commonwealth, especially in very uncertain times, but in order to work within the Commonwealth, we had to understand what it actually is.
The Commonwealth is a network of 52 countries across the world, which is made up of 2.4 billion people, who meet biennially to discuss topical issues like climate change. The next Commonwealth Summit is in London this coming April, which we started preparing for in the residential. There’s so much to the network, but this shows just how big the partnership is.
I totally underestimated how influential the Commonwealth really is, and how much amazing work happens in the organisations under it, so it was great to get an insight by Leon, the UKYA I succeeded.
Afterwards, we started creating our projects, such as workshops designed to further understanding of the Commonwealth among youth. However, our priority right now is running a mass consultation of what young people in the UK want, so that we represent you as best as we can. After all, you elected us for that very reason.
Watch out for more updates from the Commonwealth!
The British Youth Council is partnering up with the European Youth Forum in order to bring its delegation and activities at the upcoming YO!FEST, organised in Strasbourg on the 1st and 2nd of June 2018. YO!FEST is the biggest European youth festival organised in the European Youth Parliament, focused on providing a framework for young people all over Europe to get informed, debate around and contribute to the topics which are of their interest. You can find more info about YO!FEST here: http://www.yofest.eu/
The British Youth Council will be involved in the upcoming 2018 YO!FEST through two different aspects. Firstly, we will be showcasing our campaign on Votes@16 in the ”Apart and Together: Working out for a stronger Europe” creative hub, while creating the space for a structured discussions of the various ways of tackling youth participation across Europe. Secondly, we will be bringing a delegation of 20 young and motivated people, aged 16-25, to support our activities and participate in the other opportunities offered by the YO!FEST and the European Youth Event .. and that’s where YOU come in!
– Eager to learn more about the EU through fun and youthful activities?
– Ready to be part of a delegation of 25 young people and support activities organised by the BYC?
– Want to travel to Strasbourg and learn more about the French and European culture?
– Are aged 16-25?
– Are free on the 1 and 2 of June 2018, and willing to participate in online preparation prior to the festival?
Then this opportunity is for you! Travel and accommodation will be covered by the European Parliament!
Deadline for applications: 19th of November 2017 @ 23:59.
You can apply by following the link here.
For any questions, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org