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  • Writer's pictureRita Jevdokimova

Europe has no future without youth engagement in decision-making

According to the OECD, young people make up 25% of the world's demographic - a percentage that also represents a group of citizens who are by large not involved in decision-making but will have to live with its consequences.

Rita Jevdokimova is a Young Ambassador on the Future of Europe at the European Youth Parliament.

According to the OECD, young people make up 25% of the world's demographic - a percentage that also represents a group of citizens who are by large not involved in decision-making but will have to live with its consequences.

Before the upcoming Future of Europe conference, European Youth Parliamentʼs (EYP) volunteers have extensively discussed issues that are relevant to the youth and surveyed more than 1,000 young Europeans on topics such as climate change, human rights, equality, and digitalisation. The outcome has been published in the document "Youth Vision on the Future of Europe", which contains 8 vision papers with policy proposals. Throughout the process, it came as no surprise that young people are deeply concerned about climate justice, but topic relevance extended to many other areas, including minority rights, EU's external affairs, rule of law, digital literacy, youth unemployment, and others.

The rising sentiment among young people is that they will have to live with the decisions made by politicians, who more oen than not, act in their self-interest, disregarding the youth in discussions that directly concern them. There are both political barriers that hinder young citizens from direct participation, as well as the overall decreasing popularity of the political aspects of decision-making. Therefore, non-partisan, apolitical, and non-governmental organisations, such as the EYP, allow young people to engage in discussions with each other and bring forward their ideas. The next challenge is to make these ideas heard.

Even when it comes to the upcoming Conference on the Future of Europe, an event created with the main aim to directly engage with EU citizens, almost 46% of the Youth Poll respondents noted that they had not heard about the conference, with an additional 16% being unsure. It is important to acknowledge that the efforts to engage with the youth should be increased and diversified. Young people have a lot of concrete ideas and solutions to offer, especially based on their more advanced technical skills and willingness to disrupt the status quo. Young people's enthusiasm can be used as a great tool to gain support, inspiration, and a new perspective on issues that have a direct impact on their lives.

Last week such an opportunity was granted to 25 Young Ambassadors on the Future of Europe, when Members of the European Parliament, Commissioners, and other political decision-makers joined them in a series of meetings to hear about the Youth Vision. Interestingly, each meeting was executed differently, taking into account the decision makerʼs background and areas of expertise.

With many young people entering employment during the pandemic, their primary concerns revolve around infrastructure and the right to disconnect. MEP Gabriele Bischoff challenged the vision on employment, explaining the realities of solutions such as the Working Time Directive, whilst promoting other steps taken in the corresponding direction, including the European

Parliament's efforts to set and define minimum standards in workplaces. Vice President Dubravka Šuica held a roundtable discussion on democracy and possibilities for its digitalisation, noting that the generational gap and the urban vs. rural divide are exacerbating barriers to democratic participation and eDemocracy. Solutions for secure and accessible digital voting mechanisms were brought forward, as 22 respondents of the Youth Poll indicated that digitalisation and digital innovation are the most important reason for them to feel optimistic about the future of Europe. Additionally, the poll highlighted that the youth is actively worried about the lack of action taken towards democratic backsliding that’s happening in the EU Member States, especially Poland and Hungary. Young people expect no tolerance towards breaches of the rule of law, and this stance was presented to the Vice President of the European Parliament Klára Dobrev, who has been active in Hungary's opposition. Young people are continuously urging policy-makers to work towards changing the mechanism of unanimity to protect all EU citizens and their fundamental rights.

In one of the final meetings, EU Youth Coordinator Biliana Sirakova, whose role has been created only this year, shared that active citizenship should be promoted from an early age. This is an important change that needs to take place on all levels, starting from regional, yet it should also be reflected and further supported by governments and EU institutions. Opening doors to young Europeans is important to ensure that their activism is encouraged and brings value to policy-making. In particular through paid internships, direct meetings, involvement in political discussions, consultations on policy proposals, or other types of cooperation. Keeping in mind that 2022 has been named the European Year of Youth but is still lacking a clear roadmap, youth engagement should be encouraged and prioritised.

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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