EU Youth Conference – Sofia, Bulgaria!
Myself, Susie and Lucy, the three UK Young Ambassadors for Structured Dialogue and European Policy, have just returned from the second EU Youth Conference of this cycle in sunny Sofia, Bulgaria. We really enjoyed doing some constructive work with colleagues from across Europe, and are pleased to present the eleven European Youth Goals.
We arrived at our hotel on Monday, and met with old friends from our last conference, and new and friendly faces as people gradually arrived over the day. Those assembled included youth delegates representing nations from each EU member state, as well as representatives of the Eastern Partnership countries and the Western Balkans, along with delegates from International Youth NGOs, and from Government Youth Ministries around Europe. Upon arrival we unpacked and settled into the hotel, and were offered a walking tour of Sofia, where we got to check out some of the cities historical buildings and roman ruins, and make the most of the great weather! We then headed back to the hotel for dinner, and an early night before we officially began work.
We were up early on Tuesday, and were transferred to our main work space for the week, Sofia’s beautiful National Palace of Culture. The opening of the conference included a number of interesting speakers from across the world of Youth Policy – including Bulgaria’s deputy Prime Minister, the Minister for Youth and Sports, UNICEF regional director for Europe and Central Asia, and the UN Regional Director for Human Rights. They provided thoughts and insight into the work of the Conference, and on the future of young people in Europe. We then heard from the Structured Dialogue research team about the outcomes of the research that the delegates had completed in preparation for the conference, and we heard their observations regarding the data produced – which was very helpful! They talked about what we had heard from young people across Europe, and that an amazing 50,000 young people had contributed to our research. Later in the day we split into eleven working groups based on the research so that we could begin to develop our Youth Goals, and began work as a committee on these issues. I worked with the Education group, Susie went to Mental Health, and Lucy worked on Information and Dialogue. That evening we had dinner, and enjoyed a wonderful Bulgarian cultural experience that included traditional music, singing and dancing, and a few delegates dancing by the end as well!
The bulk of our work happened on Wednesday, which mostly involved knuckling down and working hard in our working groups to fully analyse the research outcomes on our area of focus. This included discussions of our national and European data, and led to each group creating a goal for European youth, along with 5-7 key targets. These goals have now officially been launched, and are available for viewing at www.youthgoals.eu! For an overview, check out this video.
On Thursday we began with reflection on the work we had done, with presentations by the finalising team and a launch of the European Youth Goals, before closing the conference with panels and speeches by yet more fascinating speakers. This included the European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, the UN Special Envoy on Youth, the President of the European Youth Forum, and Bulgaria’s Prime Minister. After lunch we said our goodbyes, and made our way to the airport, a little exhausted, but proud of the work we had done.
We hope you will take the time to have a look at the European Youth Goals, and that they reflect the future that young people want to see for themselves!
On the 13th September 2017, Jean-Claude Juncker made his address at the State of The Union conference, followed by a lively debate. Whilst the speech was strong, containing many positive goals and work for the future, the absence of a voice concerning specific young people’s issues was not unnoticed.
Little was said about Britain’s exit from the European Union, dubbed ‘Brexit’, a period of political uncertainty for many Europeans as well as Britons; with 72% of young people voting for remain, an insight into where we stand before March 19th 2019 as well as beyond would have allowed for further discussions into cooperation. Perhaps this vague statement of regret was strategic, or simply a note on not to dwell on the past, rather focusing on the unity of the future. However, if this is the direction that the UK Government has decided to go down, we need to inform and explain the process to people, rather than brush it off.
Young people were notably absent from the speech. Juncker touched on the creation of 8 million jobs, failing to mention that there has been a rise in youth unemployment. It is important to note that work experience is a topic at the UK Youth Parliament’s Make Your Mark vote this year and similar issues have risen for many years prior.
Something I noticed in particular, as someone at the age where working is necessary not only for experience but also to fund my studies, was the mention of second class citizens in regards to the workplace. As mentioned by the European Youth Forum as part of their reaction to the address, young people themselves are often seen as the second class citizens, rarely mentioned in any parliamentary debate unless the issue is directly specific to them. Leaving them out of this address is testament to this; young people should be engaged not ignored. In internships, especially for jobs with unpredictable and differing pay systems such as the arts and entertainment industry, young people are often exploited under the guise of ‘experience’ and used instead for cheap labour. Young people mustn’t be used as a tokenistic, or exploited resource, and have the right to be paid for the same labour as adults.
The support of Erasmus was a beacon of positivity in regards to encouraging young people’s involvement in international cooperation. The support of the Erasmusx10 campaign could help combat issues of youth unemployment by providing young people with a plethora of extra skills, experiences and confidence, and having support on an European level can only strengthen this initiative.
Getting more young people involved in politics starts from making them feel included in what is currently predominantly an older person’s world. Engagement comes from acknowledgment, and I feel that the issues and therefore the voice of young people was somewhat lost during what could have been a perfect platform to reassure EU youth that they are not the ‘second class’ citizens previously mentioned by Juncker, but rather equal and valued alongside adults and therefore motivated to make change as the future of the world.
UKYA to European Youth Forum
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