Allan Päll, Secretary General of the European Youth Forum, talks in this interview about this platform and young people’s rights and responsibilities.
– How and why did the European Youth Forum arise? What are its main goals today? What place does youth employment occupy among its priorities?
The European Youth Forum is the platform of youth organisations in Europe. Its history goes back to mid-20th century and the formation of youth movements across Europe, but was officially established as the coming together of international youth organisations in Europe and National Youth Councils in 1996. It currently has 98 member organisations. outh Employment is a key area of the work of the Forum under our wider work on young people’s autonomy and their inclusion into society. We have a rights-based approach to our work, meaning that we strive for the full realisation of young peoples’ rights as citizens. The right to employment is thus the basis of our work on youth employment.
– The Novia Salcedo Foundation is coordinating an international campaign to try to convince the General Assembly of the United Nations to declare 2019-2028 the Youth Employment Decade, as an opportunity to promote the economic and social transformation of organisations and countries. What does the European Youth Forum think about this initiative?
The European Youth Forum supports the initiative to propose 2019-2028 as the Youth Employment Decade for the UN. This is a positive initiative and aligns very much with the goals of the Youth Forum, that is, ensuring that youth employment is perceived as a wide societal issue that does not just affect individual young people but also the economic and social future of our societies.
Unemployed young people cost the EU around 153 billion euros annually but their exclusion from the labour market bears social consequences as they become more marginalised, which then becomes a threat to political engagement and active citizenship. By campaigning for the UN to declare 2019-28 the Youth Employment Decade, the Novia Salcedo Foundation is helping to ensure that the wider impact of leaving young people out of jobs is noticed, thus helping to ignite concrete action to fight this ongoing crisis.
– July 9 was Youth Day in the European Parliament, how can this institution be relevant for young people?
July 9th was the day that the new European Parliament focused on youth issues, through various Youth Forum events. The following week, on 17th of July, MEPs passed a resolution on Youth Employment with 502 votes in favour, calling for urgent action to help the 5.3 million under 25 year olds unemployed in Europe.
So, yes, the European Parliament is already paying attention to young people. The question is how relevant are such actions to young people? Well, the European Parliament’s recent strong interventions have improved programmes such as Erasmus+ and the Youth Guarantee, ensuring they are better funded and more youth focused. However, the Parliament can do more. To keep youth issues on the agenda, the re-establishment of the Youth Intergroup of MEPs would be a good first step.
The Parliament needs to maintain a constant dialogue with youth civil society and be even more proactive in ensuring a youth voice is reflected in all policies that affect young people. During the Election campaign, the Youth Forum’s LoveYouthFuture campaign invited candidates to sign their support to our manifesto. 85 of the elected MEPs have done so & we look forward to working with them to implement their commitments on youth employment, mobility and participation. One of the main hurdles is to overcome the low participation of young people in the European Parliament elections.
-Which are the consequences of that low participation?
A staggering 71% of 18-24 year-olds did not vote in 2009. If young people continued to vote in fewer numbers than their older counterparts, political parties would continue not to see them as a serious target group in their campaigns and, subsequently, in the issues they tackle in the European Parliament. The European Youth Forum eventually ran two main campaigns targeting the European elections, the League of Young Voters and LoveYouthFuture.
The main objective of the League of Young Voters is to be a platform that enables youth to confront political parties with their own hopes, visions, and experiences, and to ensure that their priorities would be high in the priorities of political parties. Based on the findings of study research on addressing youth absenteeism in European elections (the study can be found here: http://www.youthforum.org/assets/2014/02/YFJ-LYV_StudyOnYouthAbsenteeism_WEB.pdf), the League successfully ran several high level activities, including the first ever televised debate for the European Commission Presidency in Maastricht, televised on Euronews, and the Happy Voting video campaign (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h3VATWdrZ30), and was instrumental in negotiating the Youth Forum’s participation in the European Youth Event 2014, bringing together 8000 young people in Strasbourg on 9th-11th May to discuss ideas for a better Europe. The European Parliament needs to increase its support to such campaigns and activities of youth civil society if it wants to reach out to young people and make itself relevant for them. Yet, we should remember that the onus should not only be at the moments leading up to the elections, but also in between.
– What role do education and mobility play in the future of young people? What do you think of programmes such as Erasmus?
We should start with the question of what education is for. For us at the Forum, it starts, and ends with citizenship and is of quality when it addresses life’s and the world’s challenges holistically. Quality education is essential to build the necessary competences for young people to face these challenges in a positive, creative and constructive manner. Building a professional life while leading life as fulfilled persons and responsible and active members of society starts with education. And this requires offering quality educational opportunities to all young people, both in formal and non-formal education settings. But what is often left unnoticed is that youth organisations themselves are key providers of non-formal education.
The Youth Forum is convinced that mobility of young people is a vital contribution to intercultural understanding both in Europe and internationally. The freedom to move from one European country to another is a fundamental precondition for ensuring that young people can contribute to European integration and social and economic development, and this should not be restricted to within EU and outside EU discussion. But at a time of rapid global change, young people from outside Europe should have a key role in creating social, cultural and economic links between their countries/regions and Europe, including the EU. Our concern includes making mobility possible in countries in Europe’s neighborhood with minimum administrative barriers. We believe that an open Europe that allows youth to spend time here to acquire, and also exchange, knowledge and skills, can lead to better cooperation and links between Europe and the world and the EU and third countries.