On 5 December 2023, I attended a panel event in Portcullis House to speak on behalf of the British Youth Council about why Britain should rejoin the EU’s flagship Erasmus+ mobility scheme.
Hosted by our members at the Young European Movement UK (YEM UK), this event marked the launch of their Embrace Erasmus+ campaign, which calls on the UK government to once again be part of the cross-European education arrangement.
Beyond marking the launch of this new campaign – one which the British Youth Council proudly supports – this was also the culmination of years of frustration, a frustration that has grown in the aftermath of Brexit as UK youth sector funding has continued to be slashed, thus leaving the whole sector weakened and underfunded.
Speaking alongside a number of high-profile speakers, including Nathalie Loiseau MEP, Chair of the UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly (PPA), Alyn Smith MP, and Colm Markey MEP, I sought to highlight two key messages: (1) the government’s Turing Scheme is not viable alternative to Erasmus+ (nor are they mutually exclusive) and (2) leaving Erasmus+ is directly to blame for many of the struggles the UK youth sector is facing.
Beyond simply relitigating the arguments why the UK shouldn’t have left Erasmus+, I sought to present a positive vision about the untapped potential for future UK-EU youth sector cooperation that could be unlocked by simply re-joining the scheme. Here, I cited the work that I have been doing for the past several months with the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) – the EU’s primary civil society platform – on drafting a report looking towards how to strengthen EU-UK relations in the field of youth.
All in all, the panel event attracted a wide range of questions among the young attendees, and created the ideal dynamics for a lively debate throughout.
After the event, I rushed along with the other panel speakers to Europe House, where I was again representing the British Youth Council, this time at a networking reception hosted by the PPA. Supported by Tom Matthew, my predecessor and our team’s International Strategy Advisor, we approached diplomats, MPs, MEPs and Peers, making our case for why Erasmus+ and youth mobility should be a top priority to be addressed in the next PPA meeting. After a few hours of constructive back-and-forth conversations and business card exchanges, the reception was over.
Picking up from where I left off, I woke up early the following day to attend the annual EU Citizen’s Gathering hosted by the EU Delegation to the UK in central London. With over one million young EU citizens (including a large percentage of dual nationals) living in the UK, I was invited to represent their voices on behalf of BYC and stress the importance of toning down the rhetoric and allowing for meaningful bilateral collaborations on youth between the EU and the UK. Again, much of my day was dedicated to asking panel speakers such as Stella Creasey MP and Wera Hobhouse MP questions on mobility and then lobbying high-ranking EU and UK officials on Erasmus+ in private.
I was at it again the following week – this time in Brussels, moderating a panel event at the UK Mission to the European Union. While Erasmus+ was not directly mentioned, with the event’s theme focused on ‘Leadership in the face of Global Challenges’, the importance of volunteering schemes and youth mobility inevitably came up.
Similarly, during two trips in November – the first to Dublin for a regional meeting of National Youth Councils and the second being the European Youth Forum’s biannual statutory session in Berlin – I was amazed (and delighted) by how much this issue came up. It is one thing to champion non-formal education here in the UK, but seeing it championed across other corners of Europe is fantastic. Being able to draw best practice lessons and discuss potential youth partnerships is why I travel and love the work I do.
As you can tell by now, the purpose of this blog is not solely to recap one event or even a series of related events. Instead, my aim in writing this blog has been to capture how busy an international youth representative’s job can be whilst also showcasing the immense privilege of holding a position such as this, where you are elected to represent young people. One of the reasons the British Youth Council is so committed in its support for Erasmus+ is the sheer access to transformative opportunities it can unlock in a young person’s life. Intercultural learning, heightening policy skills, and refining one’s soft skills, you name it: volunteering matters.
Whether it’s fighting for the re-establishment of a UK United Nations Youth Delegate, campaigning for Votes at 16 or access to structured youth participation, the UK Young Ambassador team has long been committed to decentralising power to empower more young people to get involved and have their say on their future.
Excitingly, we are currently recruiting two new female/non-binary UK Young Ambassadors (one to the Commonwealth and one to Europe) to join our gender-balanced delegations. If you like the idea of spending several hours a week lobbying decision-makers and promoting youth rights, then what are you waiting for? Apply before the deadline closes at 9am on Monday 8 January 2024!
Stay tuned for more updates; 2024 is bound to be a promising year!