Having over packed, I set off to the airport with my purple passport and EHIC in hand. Not knowing what to expect (or what to expect in terms of weather) I had varied expectations.
Prior to departure, we had undertaken many consultations across the UK. Together as UK Young Ambassador’s (UKYA) we met to discuss the types of questions that we should ask to ensure that we had a good coverage and perspective on the issues of the young people in the UK. As a Welsh UKYA, I had conducted a consultation with the 1st Al-Huda Cathays Muslim Scouts group and a National Working Group for Welsh members who comprised of not only young people but other associate stakeholders and groups. The consultation was made fun and interactive to ensure that everyone was comfortable to give their full opinions so we could get a wide range of responses.
Following this, the results were analysed along with results from the national survey that was created on Survey Monkey for anyone to be able to participate. The results were input into a report created by UKYA’s and sent to a representative at the cabinet office to review and then onward to the European Youth Forum to collate the results with the results of the other member states.
Getting to Slovakia
Following a 16 hour journey, and surrounded by 5 different languages (none of which I spoke) I arrived in Slovakia. The experience of being surrounded by all this diversity was intriguing and like nothing I’ve experienced before.
After arrival at the hotel, we dived straight into work and writing the top 3 policies of our home nation.
- Rights of young Europeans after the EU referendum.
- Better use of Education to tackle discrimination.
- Refuge crisis.
Following this we got to go around the room and view every other nations’ top 3 priorities. These ranged from employment, rise in hate crime and discrimination, to refugees and many more.
On the second day we were split into workshop groups, of which there were 8. I was in the third group discussing ‘Beyond fear and intolerance – Experience Diversity’. Within these groups we received a concise paper with some of the comments mentioned by the young people across the EU along with some recommendations. Following reading the paper and discussing the issues, mutually we came up with 2 prime areas to concentrate on, which were
(1)Education and social activities as a method to tackle the fear and spread awareness of other cultures,
(2)Religions and general diversity.
Within these groups we decided on possible ideas for a policy by referring to the consultation papers. Every decision made was made on mutual terms within the group.
There were many challenges with trying to reach a joint recommendation. With 8 workshop groups there was bound to be overlap and this was evident at the AGORA (a time for workshops groups to share their work with others, discuss and give feedback). As a result we incorporated elements of other groups’ policy in ours. The other issue was with talking about the ‘elephant in the room’ and the apparently touchy subject of racism and discrimination. Considering (1) the theme of this structured dialogue was inclusive and diverse Europe, (2) being in the workshop group discussing ‘Beyond fear and intolerance – Experience Diversity’, and (3) the evidence from the consultations conducted all over Europe mentioning racism, hate crime, xenophobia etc, there was no discussion or mention of this in our conversation, and this was reflected in our policy recommendations. As a result, I highlighted the issue that we were working on the subject without hitting the nail on the head and acknowledging, identifying or understanding the causes. Instead, we just came up with something we thought would be effective for us without giving consideration of what the root cause of the problem was and how we should tackle that head on (that is what we were there for after all). After I realised this was an issue (of course by then it was too late to make big changes – my bad), I tried very hard to have the word discrimination etched into the policy recommendation and address the topic and question in hand – and fight hard is what I had to do to get the group to agree.
The final recommendations from my group were;
1) European and National Authorities should increase funding and institutional support in establishing Local Programmes and National Level Exchanges to enable all young people to have a direct connection with others from different backgrounds and realities, so as to strengthen intercultural competences, tackle discrimination, promote empathy and solidarity and experience the benefits of diversity
2) For all young people to live in a diverse Europe, the EU and National Competent Authorities must develop or support training and development programmes to teachers and school communities in order to create a safe and inclusive environment where young people can develop competences to overcome fear and discrimination.
Following the creation of the 16 policy recommendations, they were taken back to home nations and sent to Cabinet Office for comments.
Following my return to the UK I attended a debrief residential meeting with my fellow UK Young Ambassadors in Northern Ireland. At the meeting, having received feedback from Cabinet Office on what policies were viable and more susceptible to be implemented in the UK, and those which were already being executed/wouldn’t be able to be implemented in the UK, we came to an agreement on the top 3 priorities that we will focus on for the rest of the cycle.
Overall the experience was an unforgettable one. It isn’t every day you get to be at the centre of policy formation along with many other delegates across the 27 member states with key decision makers and members of the European Commission personally supporting your ideas and comments. Of course everyone comes with their own agenda, with the youth they’re representing in their minds. I learnt that it is important to compromise, whilst also never compromising on what you know is right – even if you are the only one willing to voice it.