How can we “youth up” European policy making?

"Youth up” European policy making! (Flickr: Pete<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/" 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 www.michaelchia.eu 2014
Johanna Nyman, EYF Board and Secretariat, Brussels. Copyrights www.michaelchia.eu 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.

Albania’s Integration into the EU (2/2)

The Albanian and the EU flag in front of a mountainside in Gjirokastra, Albania; SpotlightEurope_Zoela3
The EU and Albania – a shared vision and a common future?(Flickr:Nomad Tales/licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The youths are embracing the so called Western culture and consequently forgetting theirs. There are efforts in the EU to reinforce the sentiment of a common tradition such as: the European flag and hymn, Eurovision song contest, etc. Nevertheless, Zhan Mone, the creator of the EU, later said that given the opportunity, he would have given more importance to culture than to economy. Thus, “So similar, so different, so European” means that there are countries which serve both as good or bad examples.

“The youths are embracing the so called Western culture and consequently forgetting theirs.”

When it comes to a social state, will we become similar to the countries of northern Europe or the Mediterranean ones? When it comes to rights, will Albania be as liberal as Spain to allow marriages of the same sex or will it be conservative like Malta which didn’t allow divorce? To put it differently, EU holds a number of good and bad examples. Yes, we may reach standards superficially and convince Brussels one day. We choose to follow good or bad models. However, completing something superficially, results in superficial products too. Integration in the EU is an outcome of democracy, not a democratization ready formula. Moreover, Albania has and is benefiting from a number of EU instruments of assistance. On the one hand, in 1999, it benefited from the Autonomous Trade preferences and in 2000 duty-free access to the EU market was granted too. On the other hand, in 2007, the visa facilitation agreement was signed.

“Our closest duty is to do what we see clearly in the present, not what appears vaguely in the distance.”

All of these acquisitions convince us on worshipping the EU as an admirable safe haven. When Greece was in crisis the EU helped, but being constantly dependent on others enslaves a person, enslaves people. I wish that membership comes in the right moment when we see the EU once and for all as an opportunity to develop democratically. Beyond contradictions, beyond insecurities, I believe we have worked hard so far and shouldn’t give up. It’s not the politicians’ challenge only, it’s everyone’s challenge, everyone’s future. We are all in a feverish anticipation of legitimizing victory to embrace and enjoy once and for all our European dream.

Immediately, deep in the soul and in my youthful hopes, something flourishes that by pulling me away from the current time, it brings me closer to a brighter future. Something that, I know for sure will give me the validity to declare with pride: “I’m European, I live European, I think European”. Our closest duty is to do what we see clearly in the present, not what appears vaguely in the distance. “We are one and the change comes a little from all to reach good for all”.

About the author:
Zoela Dimo as speaker at an event, Spotlight Europe
Zoela Dimo – Author at Spotlight Europe

Zoela Thanas Dimo (18) is a graduate from Turkish high school “Mehmet Akif” in Albania with high results and several achievements which opened up her way to studies in Turkey. Currently she´s  an economics student at Bilkent University, Ankara.

 

Albania’s Integration into the EU (1/2)

Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha meets Catherine Ashton, former High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, SpotlightEurope_Zoela2
The Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha meets Catherine Ashton, former High Representative of the EU (Flickr:European Council/licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

“We want Albania to be like the rest of Europe”. This slogan was used in the student protests which overthrew the communist regime in 1991. More than 20 years after Albania is not like the rest of Europe. Today our democracy is fragile and the rule of law lacks behind. Today ahead of us we have an EU perspective and a roadmap with tasks to fulfill before making our dream come true. Today we listen every day to our political leaders claiming that EU integration remains a priority. We tend to believe that joining the EU would be a solution to most of our problems, but in this rather naïve belief rests the optimism of a nation for a better future.

Often, as a high school student that I am, I struggle to understand how much of this tasks are with our government and how much of it rests with the political decision of EU institutions. It is every day that I try to understand what I could do or what could a high school student do to help our accession efforts. Like everybody else, I find myself trapped in the trumpeting of EU integration slogans that are part of the everyday political language. I wonder if our leaders found an easy refuge into this subject and that’s all. Such slogans are repeated over and over throughout my childhood and now in my adolescence. It is only lately that I enquired on my ownhow this process looks like and below I will try to present my findings.

“It seems that criteria are stronger than wishes.”

There have been years of waiting, years of promises and yet neither new nor positive is on the horizon. Albania started the negotiations on the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) in 2003. In 2009 we applied for EU membership. Following the submission, the Council asked the European Commission (EC) to prepare a detailed assessment of Albania. In 2012 the EC concluded that 4 out of 12 priorities were met. On 23rd June 2013 Albania held general elections that were mainly regarded as free and fair. The EU ambassador to Albania said on July 17th that we, Albania, might be an official candidate by December 2013. Yet, to this date Albania has not been granted the status. All this pending confirmation procedure brings up the question: What is wrong with us? It seems that criteria are stronger than wishes.

No other country has suffered such as ours. Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro surpassed us in an initiative we firstly took. There is no certitude when we’re getting a firm confirmation, even though we’re famous for being the most pro-European country. So, politicians, I regret to say it’s your mistake. You’re the ones who failed. EU integration is a group mission. We as citizens have completed our duties. We on our own want and know how to live as Europeans. On the contrary, the politicians’ unjustified behavior of the parliament embodies nothing else but chaos. Maybe in another moment they may play their theatrical role: like there really is compromise, by shaking hands in front of the cameras, and… For a moment everything is better than ever and then, who knows, our European dreammay come true. But… Can we fake it to the end? Can the EU really be deceived?

It’s not a matter of good looking than it’s of content: Fulfilling our homework that will be checked by the EU. The process requires realism and pragmatism by sharply pointing out our objectives and opportunities. Whoever thinks Albania won’t develop, then it won’t do so. Whoever truly believes, will truly contribute. This means that whenever we get a “NO”, we shouldn’t focus on finding the guilty ones but on working harder. Because when we aren’t a united family within ourselves, how do we pretend to survive in EU? We shouldn’t see it as a problem solver, not as the need of a small country to stay under a larger umbrella.

“Are we ready to change our multilayer identity, the real us?”

Only by constructing the right vision of democracy, Albania avoids the danger of remaining out of the EU. Meanwhile, it avoids another danger, the one of being left behind without fulfilling the responsibilities after membership. Let’s have a look at the gist meaning of being an EU member. Let’s start by their quote: “So similar, so different, so European”, which belongs to a system so widely known as “a sui generis-of its own kind”. Rightfully, it suggests a union that constantly changes. The EU made that brotherhood, its idea becoming superior to each country’s own patriotism. But… Albanians are best known for their cultural values and their strong feeling of patriotism. Are we willing to give up some of our uniqueness for the sake of EU’sadvantages? Are we ready to change our multilayer identity, the real us?

About the author:
Zoela Dimo as speaker at an event, Spotlight Europe
Zoela Dimo – Author at Spotlight Europe

Zoela Thanas Dimo (18) is a graduate from Turkish high school “Mehmet Akif” in Albania with high results and several achievements which opened up her way to studies in Turkey. Currently she´s  an economics student at Bilkent University, Ankara.