How can we “youth up” European policy making?

"Youth up” European policy making! (Flickr: Pete<a href="" target="_blank">CC BY 2.0</a>)
“Youth up” European policy making! (Flickr: Pete/licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The EU has done a lot for young people: we can move freely (well, quite freely!) to live, work and study in the country of our choice, we are the most mobile generation than any that came before us. Yes, times are tough for us: youth unemployment within the EU is still staggeringly high and this needs to be tackled, but there are some mechanisms in place for this such as the Youth Guarantee, which we at the European Youth Forum fought for sometime. Things can and should though be improved for young people in Europe. That is why it is so vital that young people speak up and have their voices heard!

“By not voting young people are counting themselves out of having a say in the issues that affect them”

But only 27.8% of young people voted in that the last European elections. By not voting young people are counting themselves out of having a say in the issues that affect them and, even worse, by not making our point of view clear, politicians do not target us and therefore do not make policies to help win our vote. It is a vicious circle! That is why, in 2013, a year ahead on the European elections, we launched the League of Young Voters in Europe. The aim was both to encourage young people to vote – to explain why it is important for them to do so and to help them to navigate the rather complicated landscape of EU politics with easy to use online tools. The aim was also to raise up their concerns to those in power. Leagues were set up in pretty much all EU member states by the Youth Forum’s member organisations and many of these have gone from strength to strength: the British Youth Council, for example, had a very vocal and high profile campaign in the run up to the UK general elections this month. And the number of young people that cast their ballot in the British elections stood at 58%, significantly up from the election before (44% in 2010).

“We would like to see civic education about democracy and voting to be compulsory as part of young people’s education”

Beyond encouraging and educating young people about voting, we also want the voting age to be lowered across Europe to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote. We feel that by empowering young people earlier on and granting them the democratic right to vote, they would become more engaged and excited about the whole process and would continue to vote as they grow older. There have been some recent examples which show that by giving young people this power, they take it seriously and turn out at the ballot box in very large numbers! In the Scottish referendum, for example, 16 and 17 year-olds came out in force to make sure that their view was taken into account. This shows that if an issue is important enough, if it matters to young people, then they do vote. This must not, though, happen in a vacuum and we would like to see civic education about democracy and voting to be compulsory as part of young people’s education.

What is very clear from our work in encouraging youth participation is that young people are indeed interested in politics and in the decisions that affect them, but that many of them are engaging in non-traditional forms or outside of the current system. If the traditional media are not keen to hear the youth voice, then young people are turning to social media where they are running viral campaigns to get the word out there about the issues that matter to them! If the system does not take them into account then young people are taking action outside of the system!

That is why this year, the European Youth Forum is launching YouthUP, an open-source campaign aiming to empower and bring together all initiatives for better youth political participation across Europe. We will be looking for young people, partners and activists to build together resources and campaigns to help young people join democracy and political life in the way that they should be able to. This will become a resource for all young people in Europe to use and build on and with which the Youth Forum can help their voice be heard! To become part of this movement, sign up on the website.


About the author:
EYF Board and Secretariat, Brussels.  Copyrights 2014
Johanna Nyman, EYF Board and Secretariat, Brussels. Copyrights 2014

Johanna Nyman (25) is the President of the European Youth Forum. Johanna lives in Helsinki where she studies environmental change and politics at Helsinki University.

Johanna has a long background in youth organizations. She joined the scouts at the age of twelve and held various positions within the Scouts and Guides of Finland. She was an activist in the school student movement, and acted as Vice-Chair of the Swedish-Speaking School Student Union of Finland. In 2013-2014 she was a board member of the YFJ.

To Europe with Love

Heart illumination installation at the entrance to the European Parliament in Brussels, Spotlight Europe
In December 2012 visitors of the European Parliament were greeted by a giant illuminated heart. A message to European citizens. (Flickr: European Parliament/licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

An overwhelming silence settled her messy and stuffy room. It was night: A storm echoed outside. Suddenly she woke up from the agitation of all her fruitless dreams and plans for the future, looked at the mirror that stood in front of her and became aware that she was no longer a child. She was a grown up: Something had happened during the short period of hours she had slept.
Although her creased expression could be clearly noticed, she had always lived as an instinctive young lady, an irresponsible one. Throughout her life she took decisions, without bothering about the future.

Meanwhile she looked at the clock and felt confident, powerful. However, confused, she tried to say a few words but she could not speak for herself. In her mind, voices, tortures and cries of many different faces were echoing. Within a second, she felt a strange beat in her heart, a burning desire to help her own and a tingling shivering down her spine. She was definitely perceiving the world differently.

Unexpectedly, she looked back again at the image she was seeing in the mirror. Without any doubt, it was a transformed Europe. The Europe I design for 2030.

“The European Union will cease to be an institution”

I believe that on its awakening, the European Union will cease to be an institution, almost an abstract concept, and will reach out to the life of all Europeans. Politicians will be closer to the people who can familiarise with their representatives in the European Parliament. Debates about the present and the future of Europe will regularly materialise, counting with the participation of individuals from different social-cultural levels who will be taken under consideration by the assemblies of the Member States. As a result, new and innovative ideas will be discussed pragmatically, apart from the fact that it will be given a voice to minorities, which are sometimes subjugated to the interests of a certain elite.

Two people standing on an escalator, Spotlight Europe
“Man is the only animal which devours his own kind” (Flickr: Alex Proimos/licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Furthermore, in this eye opener to challenges in reality, the words of Thomas Jefferson will not make sense anymore and be, instead, considered an insult to the human condition achieved with effort and the dedication of many citizens, characterized by their active political participation, over the years: “Experience declares that man is the only animal which devours his own kind; for I can apply no milder term to the governments of Europe, and to the general prey of the rich on the poor.” Within this framework of thought, not only at the political level but also economically, will be sought, above all, the common good – the subordination of the parts to the whole. Policies of cohesion aimed at fighting for the establishment of a goal in which all come out as winners will be stimulated, especially those that provide greater economic interdependence or the ones that ensure a more efficient reaction capacity by the EU (as a whole and not just of the strongest countries). In the same way, it will be defined levels of responsibility in order to guarantee greater efficiency in meeting all types of problems.

On the contrary, as a more accurate alternative, we will be able to quote the German Chancellor Angela Merkel: “Nobody in Europe will be abandoned. Nobody in Europe will be excluded. Europe only succeeds if we work together.” To concede life to her words, it is necessary to take further measures to achieve both unification and improvement of national education systems as well as health care. They frighteningly differ in quality and effectiveness within countries that commit themselves to belong to the same union.

“A Union in which no nation is left behind”

As far as I am concerned, the utopia described has a strong possibility to turn out to be a reality. Actually, these days one would say “Big thinking precedes great achievement”. Therefore, the European project I believe in involves a Union in which no nation is left behind, in which all citizens will be given equal opportunities, professionally as well as in terms of personal fulfilment, regardless of gender or even the colour of their skin. The pyramid of moral values must be also reformulated and witness at its top an attitude of mutual help, equality, solidarity and honesty.

As a matter of a fact, the secret of success is hidden behind a path of sweat, above and beyond many tears, though optimism and perseverance are the best search engines for achievement. “United in diversity”, with a spirit of mission, we will strive towards what we have always dreamed for.

And thus, like a rejuvenated phoenix, Europe came out of her room, from its apparent position of comfort with the sincere intention to face what is ahead, looking for the good that is waiting.

About the author:
Ana Catarina Almeida, Spotlight Europe
Ana Catarina – Author at Spotlight Europe

Ana Catarina (17) participated in the “My Europe” workshop in Lison in November 2014. She is a student at Escola Secundária Rainha Dona Leonor.

Rethinking Europe

Remix by Spotlight Europe
This week’s message is simple and clear: Dear (young) Europeans, be positive! (Picture: Remix by Spotlight Europe)

Once, unifying Europe has inspired millions. Now, negative views on the European integration process prevail in public debates. In Brussels, negative thinking and playing down the achievements made so far are by now fixed elements of the daily political routine. But: Who should think positive of Europe if not its youth?

Sad to say the youth does not even have a real lobby in Europe. Money is being spent, but not enough and inconsiderately distributed so as to prepare Europe’s youth to make a difference of the Europe of the future. These young people between 15 and 20 years – a crucial age in which they will vote for the first time and prepare their professional careers – are the ones who could give the European project back its positive spin.

The latest survey draws a gloomy picture. Take Italy, Germany and France for example: In Italy only 27 per cent feels committed to the European project. In France, the number is determined at 40 per cent whereas in Germany 53 per cent of the respondents feel committed after all. And then: Only 11 per cent Italians, 13 per cent Germans and 23 per cent of French people have positive associations with the Euro as common currency. (Data taken from the recently published study by the Italian opinion research institute Demos & pi, January 2015)

Seeing Europe in a negative way – is it the fault of communication or tangible data? I believe it is both.

The youths of the “My Europe” initiative clearly stated their topics for their future Europe: “Gender Equality”, “Religion”, “Religion”, “Education” and “Employment”. On their next Get2Gather which will take place in Madrid from 23 to 26 April they will present their European values.

The voice of these young people will be loud and clear against the cacophony of defeatists in Brussels and European member states. They know that Europe still has to offer a bright, positive future. Europe is not as powerless and wasted as American professors and Chinese communists like to picture. Europe’s youth advocates a strong and future-orientated Europe!

About the author:

MP1Prof. Dr. Manfred Pohl is the Founder and Chairman of Frankfurter Zukunftsrat, the think tank that organises “My Europe”. more…


Italy: A Nation on Hold Losing Its Youth

Woman walking, Spotlight Europe
How will Italy manage to improve its labour market when its high-qualified youth sees no perspective in their country and looks for jobs elsewhere? A brain-drain threats the Italian economy. (Flickr: infradept/licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In a  new series on Spotlight Europe three young Europeans depict the employment situation in their home countries. You´ll find the intro here or go to First part.

Italy is the third largest economy in the Eurozone, but unfortunately it has a history of underperforming. The total growth of the economy since the euro was introduced and 10 years before that is approximately none.

Regarding one of the most urgent issues in the country, unemployment, it is fundamental to underline how the economic crisis and the austerity policies have heightened existing national problems. The situation is critical especially for the youngest generations.

The unemployment rate among the 18-24 year olds reached 42 % in 2014, compared to the national rate of 12,6 %; the younger generations are victims of an eradicated system that characterizes their country.

The generation conflict
“You are not considered experienced based on your CV, but based on your age.”

Italy has always suffered under a hierarchical system, with the young deferring to authority until it’s their time to take control. The Italian ruling class is Europe’s oldest: the average bank chief executive is 69 years old; court presidents 65; and university professors are on average 63.

“You are not considered experienced based on your CV, on your ability or according to your skills, but just based on your age,” says Federico Soldani, 37, an epidemiologist who left Pisa in 2000 and now works in Washington, D.C., for the Food and Drug Administration. “When you are under 40, you are considered young.” This typical Italian system has worked until the crisis hit and the economy froze in the last years.

A country of emigrants

These socio-economic and political disparities between generations lead to negative consequences, leaving emigration as the only option for many young Italians. As a result, Italy will have to face a major brain drain, which will negatively influence innovation, entrepreneurship, and investment, all of which are key drivers of economic growth.

Young professionals preparing a presentation, Spotlight Europe
Many young Italians decide for a career in another country. (Flickr: Detail, Novartis AG/licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

It is interesting to observe how history repeats itself, Italy is a nation of emigrants like 100 years ago, but this time it is mostly young students and unemployed graduates that leave their country in search of possibilities. Italy is losing its potential saviors.

In 2013 almost 100,000 Italians left their country, the top destination was England, followed by Germany, Switzerland, France and also Australia. A growth of emigrants of 71.5 % in only one year highlights the country’s failure in tackling unemployment.

The major causes behind the big emigration flow are: low salaries, indifference of politicians to the problems, unrewarding educational process, gerontocracy, lack of jobs, lack of trust in politics, welfare system.

It is time to act

What are the next steps? Will the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi be able to tackle unemployment and, most importantly, efficiently reform the labor market?

There are some lessons to be learnt from the crisis. Renzi made some broad proposals to extend jobless benefits, cut the number of short-term contracts, boost the role of employment agencies and reduce job protection for permanent workers.

The solution lies in a reform of the entrance in the labor market by modifying different factors.

Italian Prime MInister Matteo Renzi, Spotlight Europe
Calls for the reformation of the Italian labour market: Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. (Flickr: Palazzo Chigi/licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

First, internships and apprenticeships, which in Italy are underused and mostly misused, creating an “official black market”, should be developed and regulated. They could help improve the preparation and education of students, giving them the practical knowledge they are lacking, due to a mainly theoretical approach of the education system. Internships and apprenticeships are essential to build a necessary bridge between the education system and labor market. It is important to stop abuses and assure that internships have a formative content, in order to avoid them from becoming underpaid working contracts. Another aspect of the problem is the never ending paperwork, to hire an apprendista or trainee, the employer has to apply to 12 separate offices.

Secondly, a reform of the contracts and the Italian legal framework is necessary. Currently there are more than 40 different types of temporary and permanent contracts in Italy. The Biagi law (L 30/2003) has created a labor market based on temporary and short-term contracts. Temporary contracts are often cheaper than permanent ones, lower taxes, lower social security, less bureaucracy. To solve the hiatus between temporary and permanent contracts, it would be helpful to make the tax costs equal for both and allow incentives for permanent contracts in order to reverse the current situation.

“Flexibility without security is just going to worsen the situation.”

The major debate has been on the article 18 of the workers’ Statute, which protects workers from unfair dismissal. While some believe this article is fundamental to protect workers, others, included Renzi, believe it is an obstacle to flexibility in the labor market and it decreases entrepreneurs’ freedom in hiring and firing employees.

The solution isn’t that simple, the labor reform or Jobs act should be strictly connected to the unemployment insurance system reform. The insurance system should involve all workers and not only a small part of them, the job search assistance should be strengthened and re-skilling should be an important part of job searching, giving unemployed people benefits isn’t going to solve their problems.

In other terms, flexibility without security is just going to worsen the situation.

“It is majorly hard to make the decision to leave Italy knowing that you probably won’t come back.”

In an open letter to his son published in November 2013, Pier Luigi Celli, director general of Rome’s LUISS University, one of Italy’s distinguished universities, wrote, “This country, your country, is no longer a place where it’s possible to stay with pride… That’s why, with my heart suffering more than ever, my advice is that you, having finished your studies, take the road abroad. Choose to go where they still value loyalty, respect and the recognition of merit and results.”

This is a sad statement that reflects reality, leaving your country, your family and your loved ones should be a choice and not an obligation.

It is majorly hard to make the decision to leave Italy knowing that you probably won’t come back and you won’t contribute to change the country’s future.

What choice would you make as an Italian unemployed graduate?


About the author:

APicture Alessandra Maffettonelessandra (22) is Chairwoman of the Youth Council for the Future (YCF). She is involved with the “My Europe” Initiative since 2012.


A Phone Call from Amsterdam to Narva

phone booth, Spotlight Europe
Old friends do have lots to say – especially talking about experiences from the past. (Flickr:Steve Wilson/licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Y: Are you alright?

X: Nice to talk to you, it’s been a while since the last time I heard from you.

Y: I know, I’m sorry I was very busy this month. But these days I read so much about Narva in the newspaper, I never thought Estonia was going to be world news. But because of that I was wondering if you were still alright. Who thought it would turn this way when we were together in the My Europe youth council?

X: Well, a lot has happened since it all started around 2015

Y: You mean when England stepped out of the European Union?

X: Yes, but I still think Cameron made the right decision. England had to pay two billion to the EU.

Y: But that was because Europe used a new technique to calculate the economic growth, and it turned out to be more then they first thought.

X: But two billion…? Unacceptable! Cameron didn’t have a choice. If he would have payed it, most citizens from England, would have become very, very angry. They already wanted England to step out of the EU for a long time, and if Cameron was going to pay two billion to the EU…

Y: That’s true but still, the European Union also needs money to exist.

X: And then France came…

Y: At least they tried to help them to get out of their huge economic crisis, but the EU became weaker because England had left. Also there were a lot of fights and disagreements, which caused a lot of tension.

X: But they didn’t succeed in helping France, they should have discharged France from the EU, what happened wasn’t surprising.

Y: Of course not, the idea of the EU is that countries support each other when they have problems like a crisis or a war.

X: So France could get all the countries into a crisis, because they couldn’t manage their own business….? Because that’s what happened eight years ago.

Y: I do agree that the EU should have helped earlier to prevent it. When France said they could fix their deficit from 3%, the EU should have done something.

X: But because the EU didn’t, and decided to support France, other countries also got into a crisis. And because England already stepped out of the EU, the other countries needed to pay even more money than they already did. Their solidarity became smaller and smaller. Of course they blamed France. And who could blame them? I don’t know if I will still buy croissants.

Y: That is true, but when you work together with so much different people from different countries, who all have different cultures, you have to realize that you are going to lose things if you want to succeed. All the countries knew this, when they decided to join the EU.

X: But isn’t losing your whole country a bit much of an effort?

Y: Haha, but maybe the crisis would have been solved in a few years if Russia didn’t attack Estonia.

X: Yes, last year the Russian army started to slowly take over Estonia, they wanted to make one big Russia, because Estonia was part of the Sovjet Union until 1991, they still felt like they owned it.

First they attacked Narva, the city I live, because it is located on the border of Estonia and Russia.

And now they have also taken over other cities in Estonia. My daily life didn’t really change, but when I go to the supermarket, there are some things priced higher

Y: Wow, quite a lot happened!

X: But then it all became too difficult for the EU so they gave up. The pressure became too high and there were too many disagreements to continue. I never believed in the EU, and now when the pedal hits the metal they quit, so I rest my case.

Y: I understand that you are angry, but because of the European Union you could live and study in Estonia, you could marry your wife, your children are able to go to a European school and you can drink wine from France, thanks to the EU… did you ever think about that?

But anyway, I’m glad to hear that you’re still alive, but I can’t call too long, the costs of calling to another country became much higher after the EU fell apart.

X: Okay, I hope to see you soon, maybe in fifteen years. We then might all live in the same Russian country, and the whole Europe problem is solved, haha!

About the author:
Lara, Spotlight Europe
Lara – author at Spotlight Europe

Lara (15) participated in the “My Europe” workshop in the Netherlands in 2014. She´s a student at Barlaeus gymnasium, Amsterdam.

Paris, 2030

Paris Sundowner, Spotlight Europe
Will Paris be the same in the future? (Flickr:Moyan Brann/licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0)

I hitch my bag higher up my shoulder and start down the stairs. The 13 flights would have been too much for my mother when she was 81, but for me it’s no problem.

It’s all this new technology keeping me in shape. I wear sensors all over my body so the doctors can monitor me. Sometimes I’ll get a text from my GP advising me to take painkillers, because he’s seen from the sensors that my back’s going to be hurting tomorrow when I wake up. It really is amazing.

When I reach the bottom of the stairs and pull the lever to open the doors of the high rise flat I live in, the heat hits me instantly. I’m all for warm weather, but a 40 degree Parisian summer is nothing to smile about, though it is something we’re used to after about 20 years of global warming. I pull on my jacket and set out into the sun, instantly feeling the relief as the nano-technology cools me down.

Heading to work, Spotlight Europe
Heading to work (Flickr:Stephane Mignon/licensed under CC BY 2.0)

I head down the street towards the synagogue. It’s a bit of a walk, because there aren’t a lot left. Most have been replaced by industrial buildings and high density housing. I hear a call of “Bonjour!” from behind me and turn, knowing who it is. Rachel is the only one who still talks to me in French. I’m not sure anyone other than us still knows how to speak it.

Rachel is my only Jewish friend left in France. Many of our old friends left for Israel back in the early 2000s to escape anti-Semitism. Personally, I’m willing to stay until the last synagogue has been demolished. Paris is my home.

I can still contact all my old friends through Facebook. Even they have stopped speaking French though. English is the big one to know now. “The language of business” as they say. My English is quite good. It was easy for most people to pick up as we learned a lot in school. It was more a case of remembering than learning.

As we get closer to the synagogue the population begins to increase. This is a poorer part of town than we are from, so more people here have to get up early to do the jobs no one else wants to do. Not that we’re well off. Far from it. If I was well off I certainly wouldn’t live here. I’d live in the other end of Paris, with proper housing and gardens, and with the 4 families that literally own most of the city. But that’s wealth distribution for you, I guess.

“We arrive at the synagogue, dirty and in disrepair”

We arrive at the synagogue, dirty and in disrepair, tucked in at the back of an alley and quickly say our daily prayers before leaving again. I remember when I was a lot younger having set prayer times, definitely more than once a day. Now I just pray when I can.

I say goodbye to Rachel and she heads off towards the train station. Thankfully I have a car, so I make my way to the underground car park where I left it. I used to be a teacher when I was young. I had to retrain though, there’s not as much demand for teachers as there once was, what with the ageing population. I worked in various offices for a while, then retired. After the collapse of the pension funds I went back to work. I’m the secretary of a software firm now. I have to keep myself going for about the next 30 years according to recent studies, after all.

I get into my car and set it to the destination “work” then sit back and let it drive me there. There’s no need to stop for petrol, since everything runs on electricity. It’s a shame almost, I used to enjoy driving.

“I order dinner on my mobile phone”

I arrive at work and set myself up at my desk, ready to start the day. Jianming is at the desk with me today, as every day. He greets me in Chinese and we talk for a while. Chinese is another language that’s been coming into a lot of use lately. I learned it mainly so I could speak to Jianming, but it’s actually turned out to be quite useful.

I order dinner on my mobile phone on the way home – thank god the euro is still in use, I don’t think I’d be able to get used to a new currency on top of everything else – then jump into my car, which takes me yet another new route home, since it’s programmed to avoid traffic congestion. I get back to my apartment and take the stairs back to my room. I eat my dinner and phone my sister, before going to bed.

About the author
Bronagh Scanlon, Spotlight Europe
Bronagh – author at Spotlight Europe

Bronagh (16) participated in the Dublin edition of the “My Europe” workshop. She´s a student in Mount Temple Comprehensive School.