Youth excluded from Bratislava Summit

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Italian youth march. Rome, April 2015. [Alan Kotok/Flickr]

We call for real, new investment in tackling the big problems that youth – and therefore the whole of society – faces. And we ask that, at this crossroads for our Union, our leaders finally champion young people, writes Johanna Nyman.

Johanna Nyman is the President of the European Youth Forum.

This week, European leaders will get together in Bratislava to debate the big issues that face Europe at this difficult moment. We call on them to follow Jean-Claude Juncker’s lead in his promise to continue to tackle youth unemployment in today’s State of the Union speech. But without the additional funding needed, this will not become a reality. We are waiting with bated breath to hear of a strong commitment from our political leaders to youth with real, new investment.

There is, however, one key ingredient missing from this milestone summit: youth! Surely, it would be expected that young people at least get a say in how to tackle the big problems that society, and especially young people, our generation, are facing? But instead, Europe’s leaders are deciding our future without us. Despite calling on the European Council President, Donald Tusk, to include youth in the Summit, even in the sidelines, youth are not present. This will have an impact not just on our generation, but also on society at large.

Young people are generally the age group with the most positive attitude towards the European project and we have a positive vision for our common future. We also see the positive force that the European Union can be, bringing down the borders and some of the barriers that we face. We hold answers, ideas and solutions to some of the most pressing problems Europe faces. Without harnessing the wide support and the more international perspective our generation has taken on world affairs, the only route for the European Union will be further disintegration.

We are concerned about the state of traditional politics. Young people sense that it does not respond to our needs and are thus turning away from it: joining political parties less and less, not turning out at general elections, while turning to different forms of activism and community engagement. At the last European Parliament elections, in 2014, only 28% of young people below the age of 24 voted, out of an already low overall turnout of 42.61%. That must surely be a lesson for political parties to consider.

Faced with this scepticism, EU leaders need to show that they are not out of touch. Stop pushing ahead without listening! And tackle the big issues; include us in the debate about Europe’s future, about our future. If, instead, leaders decide to continue on this path of paying lip service to young people, they will only succeed in alienating us further. And so they will keep on digging the hole they are in.

And what concerns us the most? Just look at the facts: young people are the age group most at risk of social exclusion and poverty. Meanwhile, reforms made to social welfare are often discriminatory to young people. To add insult to injury, with continuing cuts to public education, more of the cost of education is being pushed onto the shoulders of young people.

And looking at the wider picture, we can only have a future if we make our economic, social and environmental sustainability the core of our public policy. Yet, the EU and its leaders are not showing signs of any urgency in putting in place a new strategy or vision for the EU to implement the Agenda 2030 that 150 world leaders endorsed last year at the United Nations, including the Paris Climate Change agreement.

These are all urgent problems that need to be tackled. But we are plagued by short-termism, with our leaders blaming on each other what should be tackled together. True leadership would take all of that into account. In the end, our leaders need to show, at least some hints of, political courage.

The European Youth Forum, along with our member organisations across Europe who have written to the Presidents and Prime Ministers of the EU-27 countries, are asking for the youth voice to be heard at this key debate on the future of Europe as well as sharing our vision for the future of Europe. We call for real investment in youth in order to show Europe is serious about young people. That Europe is serious about its sustainability.

Specifically, what we see as necessary, is investment in quality job creation: with youth unemployment within the EU still at worryingly high levels (nearly 20%) and in some Member States one in two young people do not have a job, and many more young people in jobs that don’t even support an independent life, this must be one of the EU’s top priorities!

As our future is being decided in Bratislava, we are being kept out of the debate. Time and time again EU leaders promise that youth are the future and, frankly, we are fed up with these empty promises. We call for real, new investment in tackling the big problems that youth – and therefore the whole of society – faces. And we ask that, at this crossroads for our Union, our leaders finally champion young people and give the EU the means to ensure that young people can truly fulfill their potential.