“Young people must be able to shape the future of Europe. Just a few weeks ago, President von der Leyen appeared before the European Parliament and declared her ambition for young people to help animate the debate at the Conference on the Future of Europe.
Despite making up 25 percent of the European population, young people are one of the least represented groups when it comes to making political decisions. For Ursula to realize her ambition to include young people, the Conference must deliver on its promises of meaningful participation. Is it possible ? So far, the response has been mixed.
After a difficult start, the Conference begins to emerge as an exciting opportunity to inject new ideas and creative thinking into the European project. While young people have always been among those who spark social movements, lead protests and push for change, their voices are often not reflected in mainstream politics. For many young people, who have never had the chance to engage in politics or decision-making at European level, this conference could be a gateway to discover more about how the EU can shape their lives. A bridge between youth activism and institutions.
So what steps have been taken so far? Within the formal structures of the Conference, some work on youth engagement has already started. The first meetings of four groups of citizens’ panels are starting to take place, bringing together Europeans selected at random from participants from different geographic and socio-economic backgrounds, representing different ages and genders.
Significantly, a third of each citizen panel is made up of young people between the ages of 16 and 25, a clear recognition of the importance of young people in these discussions. In addition, among the citizens’ representatives at the Plenary Conference, the President of the European Youth Forum, Silja Markkula, was also chosen to be a strong advocate for young people.
Once referred to as the ‘lost generation’ and even more recently as the ‘containment generation’, there is undoubtedly a lot at stake for young people. All of these youth voices will play a crucial role in bringing youth perspectives forward and speaking out about the change young people want to see. They bring with them the realities, needs and concerns of thousands of young people from all over Europe and it is fitting that they are an integral part of the whole Conference process.
However, connecting young people to the EU and allowing them to express themselves does not stop there. The European Youth Forum, which represents national youth councils and international youth organizations from across Europe, called on the organizers of the Conference to truly represent European diversity and create a wide-ranging dialogue across Europe. ‘Union. We want to open the debate to ideas, large or small, local or European. We want the voices of the 25 percent to count.
No one should be excluded from this Conference. The 25 Percent project, launched by the European Youth Forum, aims to reach beyond the few hundred young people selected to contribute to the panels and engage all young people in a conversation about the future they want to see for the ‘Europe.
Together with national youth councils and international youth organizations that work with minority groups and marginalized young people, we will bring together 15,000 ideas from young people regardless of their language, social background or level of education. Every idea will be taken seriously and reintroduced into the debates of the Conference.
Participation does not have to be one-off, which is why The 25 Percent goes beyond simply collecting ideas from young people. Young people should be encouraged to take action and find other ways to get involved. This project also gives young people the tools, skills and knowledge they need to stand up for themselves and inspire them with real stories from young people who have made a difference. Will European decision-makers respect their end of the bargain?
The 2019 announcement of the Conference on the Future of Europe appeared to be the Commission’s response to the many challenges facing the EU. Challenges such as the growing lack of confidence in EU institutions, growing polarization and the rise of populism.
To succeed in this great listening exercise to strengthen the European project, it is therefore crucial that the contribution of citizens does not stop with the Conference. There must be a clear commitment from the institutions and a binding legacy mechanism to ensure that the ideas and priorities expressed during the conference continue to guide future policy development at EU level.
The stakes are high: if young people are left out now if their voice is not really taken into account, they will become disillusioned and disengaged. Young people are at the heart of the European project, and now is the time to show that their voice counts.