On 23 and 24 March, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) hosted the 14th Your Europe, Your Say! (YEYS!) event, bringing 105 students from 35 schools from all 27 EU Member States and the seven candidate countries to Brussels. Given the many societal and economic challenges, a shrinking civic space and threats to peace and fundamental rights, this year’s conference focused on “Youth Democracy Dialogues” and aimed to ensure that the voices of young people are heard when Europe’s future is shaped. The students’ recommendations will be submitted to the European institutions and high-level EU policy makers in June 2023.
The student recommendations for the European institutions are:
- EU simplified: an EYou app enabling young people to engage directly with politicians and civil society by selecting their main interests and following the latest developments at grassroots level
- The E-Youth platform for information on the European Union is a way to simplify politics for younger generations, giving them a forum where their voices can be heard
- The EYout(h)rust platform will increase transparency in politics at local, national and EU level
- The Youth Democratic Opinion (YDO) project which will improve the quality of civic education and engagement in Europe by establishing an EU ambassadorship programme assembling young people’s views and proposing recommendations for policy makers
- More EU-funded initiatives led BY young people FOR young people.
“Tell us what are your expectations and your hopes for the future of Europe. What would you like to see changed? Go ahead, raise your voices, be creative and spontaneous,“ said EESC president Christa Schweng to the students gathered for the event. “This is a critical moment for Europe’s credibility as a place of peace, democracy and prosperity. To tackle new challenges, the EU needs to listen to young people and take new ideas on board. We will follow up on the results of your work today.”
EESC vice-president for communication, Cillian Lohan told the students that the EESC will take your recommendations to the European Parliament’s EYE (European Youth Event) in Strasbourg in June. The voice of young people counts because they have to lead the change towards the Europe of tomorrow. For Vice-president Lohan, “what makes the difference, in these times of crisis, is that we become active. When the system starts to show cracks or when it is at risk, we all have to step up from our private activities and become active. You have taken that step today: thank you.”
Biliana Sirakova, the EU Youth Coordinator at the European Commission, reminded us that “These initiatives aim to engage young people to become active citizens. Without active citizens, there is no functioning democracy. What these young people did today exemplifies what democracy is about: it is the power of people coming together to make change and have an impact.”
The discussions showed that youth believe that there is no space for their voices to be heard in the European Union right now. They expressed feelings on disillusionment and frustration because they do not believe they have all the tools and information needed to act and make a difference in society.
EESC member Neža Repanšek reassured them that this frustration is a good starting point for change, drawing from her personal experience: “My motivation for starting to participate actively was born of frustration. I saw that when young people come together, we can be a very powerful force. You are never too young to change something in the world.”
Ismael Páez Civico, Board member of the European Youth Forum, explained that “You won’t see quick change; it happens over time. But please, don’t lose hope! Continue to work for change because what you are saying does reach decision makers eventually.”
The participants attended a performance by Theatre Navpaky during the closing session of the YEYS!, featuring a compilation of 9 stage songs in Ukrainian telling the stories of young people facing different life experiences in a setting that mirrors current events in Ukraine. The performance intends to showcase the everyday heroes who fight for their freedom are not majestic bronze statues, but ordinary people.