In November Lucia and I travelled to Amiens in France to represent the British Youth Council at the Council of Members Extraordinary Meeting (COMEM). It was an opportunity to come together with all the members of the European Youth Forum to discuss policy and campaigns.
On Thursday evening, Lucia went to the announcement of the European Youth Capital for 2022 which President Macron gave a speech. The ceremony takes place every year in the previous European Youth Capital, and the event is always a spectacle. After some moving performance pieces including poetry, acrobatics and dance, each Youth Capital finalist was invited to show their application video and give a short speech about their city. The winner was announced as Tirana, Albania – congratulations!
We then spent most of Friday and Saturday debating the European Youth Forum’s Strategic Plan and the policy documents which outline the European Youth Forum’s position on areas from “The Future of Work” to “Gender Equality”. The documents aim to strengthen and enhance the work done in specific areas of youth policy and spots areas that need to be focused on. By working on amendments for each document, we were able to have a say on issues important to the British Youth Council and the values we stand for. We also got to speak with the European Youth Forum’s board members about their campaigns and some of the areas they are focused on. We were really pleased to be able to vote on the admission of organisations to the European Youth Forum either in full or observer member status. The successful organisations were: The National Youth Council of Turkey (GoFor), Youth Express Network (Y-E-N) and the European Confederation of Independent Trade Unions Youth (CESI-Youth).
As this was my first trip abroad as a UK Young Ambassador, I spent a lot of time getting to know all the other representatives from around Europe and trying to gain a better understanding of how the European Youth Forum works as an organisation and as a group of young campaigners.
One of the highlights was Friday evening- we managed to get some free tickets to watch Amiens play an ice hockey match which they won 4-2!
This April I visited Brussels for my fifth and final assembly meeting as the UK Young Ambassador to the European Youth Forum, which I attended alongside Lucia Jones. At this meeting, which brings together around 150 young representatives from across Europe, we usually discuss and pass resolutions on continent-wide issues as well as elect people to represent us on other platforms and advocate for youth rights. At this particular meeting, we discussed a couple of policy papers which essentially did as they say on the tin – one on demanding urgent climate action and the other on better youth representation – though perhaps surprisingly the second one did not pass through this time round for more technical reasons. We also admitted a new organisation, the Junior Chamber of International Europe, to become an Observer member, and were treated to a speech from the Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium on why young people were important and the future (Shock! Gasp!).
However, it now being late May, I have since suffered the excruciating pain of another round of exams, and am struggling now to write beyond the clichés of an essay. Luckily though, the subject which I would love to talk briefly to you about now are clichés – specifically those which are dredged up time and time again within the world of youth advocacy, apparently present across the whole of the continent, and in my opinion deeply dangerous to the future of improving our lives. I have already mentioned one of these clichés – that youth is the future – and at the heart of the statement it is not at all wrong and incredibly true. But claims like this, which also include statements like better rights are the answer to our problems, and that more funding is the solution, though they hold a lot of truth, are unoriginal and a sign of uninspired thinking within our networks. Unfortunately, I’ve seen (and written) ‘social media’ or ‘networking’ or ‘funding’ on a group Flipchart as the solution to our current problems more often than I’ve had hot dinners. It is true that social media is an issue, for example, the European Youth Forum has 144,000 followers on Facebook and rarely musters more than a dozen likes on a post – simply wanting more of what we already have shown to be ineffective is ineffective. Within discussions, these lazy solutions to problems shut down debates at the same place they have for decades. They stop with a cliché, not a point – giving us long-standing soundbites which politicians can regurgitate to us with very little consequences compared to supporting a solid policy position. Therefore, we must really all push to challenge ourselves everyday on not reusing the same jargon for the issues we face as, eventually, it will lose all of its meaning.
In all honesty, I must now tell you, though you may have already gleaned this from the descriptions above, this meeting at times did get a little tedious… albeit with two very significant exceptions. The first was the election of our very own Pegah Moulana, one of the most skilful, committed and engaging young people that currently represents the British Youth Council, who was re-elected to the Advisory Council of Europe to help oversee certain aspects of that organisation including the European Court of Human Rights. In particular, Pegah has these past two years already been working on improving the condition of young refugees and fostering Middle Eastern-European dialogue. Her election this year coincided too with a proposed 100% cut to the youth programme of the council, so now more than ever we need to be sure to support her to hold up the infrastructure of protecting our rights. This is especially important in the context of this being one of the only European institutions which isn’t tied to the European Union. If we can do so, I am certain her work will continue to show that international youth advocacy does generate real-world positive change and can bring people together who otherwise would have been separate.
The other exception was the address made to us by the 23 year-old Yasmine Ouirhrane who was 2019’s Young European of the Year. She told us of the racism she received growing up in rural Italy to an Italian mother and a father who had immigrated to Italy, and also facing discrimination throughout her life as a woman. However, she harnessed the negative energy people had dealt out to her and reshaped it into a passion for creating a fairer and more equal society at a European level. Now living in France, she was instrumental in organising the huge Yo!Fest last year in Strasbourg as well as working with disadvantaged groups in the city year round. Her example is one which we should all seek to emulate as it shows that if you want to improve society at a European level we must change lives at a local level with community projects – not the other way round. It is without a doubt the culmination of all the local projects across Europe which drives forward the positive change in our society – and that the European Youth Forum must always stand to protect the vital funding, and political support, on which many of them depend.
The British Youth Council are calling on the Government and prominent campaigners to address the concerns of young people in any new Brexit negotiations or plans. The youth-led charity feels the voices and wishes of young people, in particular, have not reflected in Brexit negotiations up to this point. Therefore, we believe the best way to give young people a clear say on their future is to join the growing campaign, calling on the Government to deliver a People’s Vote on the final Brexit Deal.
A spokesperson for the British Youth Council said: “Young people’s voices are not being heard in the Brexit negotiations. It’s really imperative that the Government commit to listening to young people and their concerns moving forward.
“The British Youth Council also believe the Government should hold a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal. This is the biggest political decision of our lifetime and we think its important young people have a clear say on our future.”
The call comes as yet more uncertainty looms over the future of the UK’s relationship with the European Union, with the Government’s proposed withdrawal agreement being voted down by Members of Parliament last week. The British Youth Council recognise that in 2016 the majority of young people voted to remain in the European Union. Young people were very concerned about employability prospects, opportunities for young people, threats to our education system and rising racism and fascism within our society.
The British Youth Council are keen to stress that young people care about their future and should have their issues discussed and addressed. We’ve also made it clear young people should be provided firm reassurance over their futures in the coming months. We believe that the rights of young European citizens living in the UK should be upheld in wake of the Brexit vote as they contribute so much to the UK. We’re joining calls for the government to ensure that the rights of young EU citizens, that have lived in the UK for over a year, to live work and study in the UK remain unchanged by negotiations with the EU.
The importance of maintaining funding opportunities, such as the Erasmus+ programme, has also been raised by British Youth Council members. Young people and youth organisations, both during the withdrawal negotiations and in the framework of the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union, should have access to the same opportunities.