BRUSSELS, July 15, 2019 – From July 8-10, the World Youth Alliance hosted the main activity of their Erasmus Plus sponsored Project “Meet the new EU Parliament” in Brussels, the heart of Europe. As the 8th annual Emerging Leader Conference (ELC), this conference was organised by WYA Austria and WYA Europe in collaboration with partner organisations from 10 other European countries. This year’s theme introduced the newly elected EU Parliament and covered three main topics: health, education and active youth citizenship in the EU. Young participants from 12 countries and more than 20 nationalities gathered together to interact with policy makers, experts and leaders on current European and global issues.
On the first day, the participants were able to discover the theoretical perspective as well as others and their own perspective on global youth issues and the role of the EU in dealing with them. Special focus was put on the role of European institutions and the European Parliament was highlighted as the body directly representing the people of the European Union in decision-making. With this introduction in mind, the participants went to the European parliament the next day to attend three different debates with decision makers.
Regarding health, Antonio Mellado (Fondation Jérôme Lejeune) highlighted the importance of research, care, and defending every human life in European institutions. He pointed out that the EU invests a lot of money into different kind of health research, but Down Syndrome was so far not on the list of priorities and people with Down Syndrome still face a lot of prejudice in society.
Karlo Ressler (MEP) discussed the importance of education by highlighting that it is the job of decision-makers to ensure that the young people in Europe can get access to quality secondary and higher education, be it in their home countries or abroad. He pointed out the importance of young people being able to get a well-paid and stable job, as well as having an opportunity to start a family according to their own preferences. His assertion was that the EU can promote policies helpful in this regard, such as helping them purchase their first homes, which is getting increasingly difficult in many countries. He finished his opening remarks with the key point: ‘Revitalisation through education is crucial, especially in a time when the EU is faced with such demographic challenges.’ WYA’s viewpoint on this is stated in the white paper on sustainable development and the Human Dignity Curriculum fully addresses this topic. Concerning active citizenship of youth in EU, Florencia van Houdt (Youth, Volunteer Solidarity and Traineeships Office, part of Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture of the European Commission), Ville Majamaa (vice-president of European Youth Forum) and Alejandra Fernandez (PR Office of the EP) provided the participants with a wide spectrum of possibilities to engage within the EU.
Furthermore the participants got the chance to have an open dialogue with several MEPs such as: Karlo Ressler (Croatia), Tomáš Zdechovský (Czechia), Klaus Buchner (Germany), Alexandr Vondra (Czechia), Michaela Šojdrová (Czechia) and APA (assistant to MEP Mikolasik) Jana Zuscinova (Slovakia). This gave them the chance to foster a meaningful network on professional level. It also promoted the realisation that collaboration with decision-makers and politicians is possible. Not only professionally networking has been achieved, but also personal networking and creating friendships by sharing their ideas and unique perspectives. Besides the input of information and analysis of global issues, there were daily opportunities for participants to gain outputs of information through intimate discussions with one another. These were moments where they could relate (or not) the information they received with their own viewpoint and share this with others.
A cocktail reception was hosted for the event by the Taipei Representative Office in the EU and Belgium where the participants had an opportunity to socialize with each other and distinguished guests, such as the speakers and the ambassador of Slovakia to Belgium Mr Peter Kolmuth, over drinks and dinner in an informal setting.
During the project, the World Youth Alliance and its partner organisations created an environment that went beyond just providing knowledge about the EU or practical skills. WYA encourages the capacity of the individual in European settings in order to make a difference in their own communities or in European society. One of the participants, Patrícia Dos Santos Raminhos, said: ‘We, young people don’t feel heard in politics and that has to change, we have to believe in ourselves to let the politicians believe in us and listen to us.’
Through the ELC and other upcoming events, the World Youth Alliance will keep providing opportunities for young people to get inspired and to inspire others to defend human dignity through a large variety of topics. Events with the goal that young participants open gates towards new possibilities – based on a shared vision of the human person – which seemed impossible before.