A Gap Between Youth and Politics: Youth Empowerment and Participation in Politics
Youth all over the world are seemingly less involved in politics. I wondered and asked myself why this could be. According to Melinda Dooly, a language professor at the autonomous University of Barcelona, a large percentage of today’s youth fears for the future. Think about it: climate anxiety, unemployment, equality, health care, all while being ignored by politicians. Young people often find it hard to navigate among these topics. It can be difficult to let the right people hear your voice. As a student of European Studies concerned with seeking ways to influence European politics, I often ask myself: How difficult can it be?
Last October, I was invited to join the European Youth Event (EYE) in Strasbourg, France. EYE is a two-day event that happens every two years. It is a unique opportunity for young people to inspire not just each other but also members of parliament, activists, influencers, and other experts. The event is always held in the heart of European democracy, either at the parliament in Brussels or Strasbourg. I was invited to stay for four days. The costs for young people who are invited are covered by Parliament, making it more appealing and accessible for interested students. Every year, around 10.000 young people are invited by Parliament. The event organizes more than 100 activities where young people get to discuss their ideas, initiatives, and solutions, all of which are all carefully registered for Parliament and the European Commission. This year, many ideas were sent to the Conference of the Future of Europe, a joint initiative by Parliament, The Commission, and The Council.
I was invited through my work as a volunteer for the Liaison Office in The Hague and other extracurricular activities, such as partaking in debates by MeetEU. The parliament invited the group of MeetEU. During the event, we hosted a workshop where the participants were asked to give solutions to the little youth participation in politics. The number one solution suggested by these young participants was to make the discussions less political and focused on power games. Instead, they want more approachable language being used, and to see the debates being accessible in multiple online platforms where conversations with citizens can be held.
During the event, I also photographed and interviewed various people involved such as, the people involved in workshops or youth organizations and members of parliament. I would ask questions about the topics they found most important, what topics deserve more answers, and what problems they face that they hope the EU could solve. The people I had asked were mostly very open about their reason for coming to the event. Some people were facing difficult problems back in their hometowns, such as discrimination or no chance of finding an affordable home or a job. One girl had the chance to speak to a member of parliament during a workshop. She spoke publicly infront of more than 50 people and several members of the parliament about her painful situation at home. She found that discrimination in Europe remained present but under-reported. She argues that her and her fellow students of colour were more likely to be in unpaid internships than her white peers. It was difficult for her to speak about this matter to her school. When interns work for free there is an injustice in the system, these people still have costs to pay for such as rent, transport, food alongside many other costs. The girl sparked a lively debate in during the workshop, and the members of parliament promised to stay in touch with the girl to discuss the matter. Every day after the event, I wandered through the international streets of the city, filled with beautiful French and German architecture. I would gather all my thoughts from that day. It was interesting to see so many young people gather from all over Europe, each of us facing different realities, having different interests and fighting for solutions.
Today’s youth (those between the ages of 15 and 25) constitutes a fifth of the world’s population. They are the future of this planet, and deserve a seat at the table. Therefore, it is important that groups like MeetEU, youth wings of political parties, and other youth organizations are widely promoted among youth in all regions, We have so much to say, and right now many of us feel silenced by a high information threshold in politics. This threshold can be jargon in debates or policy documents or the fear of being ignored by politicians. However, in my journey I have felt that often enough Members of parliament or other political institutions are happy to discuss politics with young people. Youth participation is a topic that is well discussed among politicians. Participating in politics is not difficult, you just need to find the right places and network to let your voice be heard. Keep asking yourself critical questions about the system and the world of today. When given an opportunity to share your opinions and partake in the decision-making process, young people consistently prove their eagerness and ability to foster positive, lasting change.
by Emma Berndt