Interview: Peter Matjašič, President of the European Youth Forum board
I encourage every young person who is pissed off with something in their lives and environments to channel that energy into getting active and do something about it. Youth organisations are often the easiest and safest place for a young person to have their say and I personally benefited a lot from my involvement in more than 10 years of youth work in Europe.
The European Youth Forum (YFJ) is the representative body of youth, basing its legitimacy on the youth movements of the 1960s that created youth organisations and youth platforms across Europe on the model of representative democracy. With YFJ President Peter Matjašič, we talked about upcoming European Youth Event in Strasbourg, youth unemployment, rights of non-EU Europeans. And inevitably – about youth participation. After more than 10 years of being involved in youth work all around Europe, Matjašič knows quite some about this, and beyond.
- Why is the European Youth Event (EYE), let’s say, such a “big deal”? It is announced as the biggest annual youth event in Europe. What is the benefit for youth and for organised youth?
The EYE is “such a big deal” because it will see 5,000-8,000 young people from all over Europe getting together to discuss “ideas for a better Europe” and will be the chance for young people to address their concerns to policy makers directly, in the context of the European elections which will take place shortly afterwards. As you know, the discussions and debates will be written up by young journalists from the European Youth Press with commentary from the European Youth Forum and presented to new MEPs as a report on the event. The EYE should therefore have a direct impact on the future of Europe.
The benefit for young people in general and organised young people specifically, is that this will be a unique event which will give them unparalleled access to other young people, decision makers and politicians and is a unique opportunity to come together in large numbers to discuss key issues.
- What is YFJ’s role in EYE?
The Youth Forum is organising the YO!Fest, its annual Youth Festival, which will this year be an integral part of the EYE. Mixing political debates and workshops with live music and artistic performances, YO!Fest aims once again at mobilising young people and youth organisations across Europe. We are organising the YO!Village around the European Parliament, a lively space where YO!Fest-goers will find a wide range of interactive activities run by and for young people, including stands, political debates and workshops on the five core themes, a Living Library organised by the Council of Europe, artistic performances such as dance, circus, theatre, street art and graffiti, sports installations and live music, as well as informal discussions in the YO!Café. The Youth Forum is also the core partner of the EP in organising high-level debates inside the Parliament, aiming to engage politicians and decision-makers with young people.
- One angle that can be discussed is a fact that many groups have to organize and finance boarding and lodging on their own – is this motivating, discouraging, even discriminating toward certain society groups?
The EYE and YO!Fest are free to attend but participants do have to cover their own transport and accommodation. The Youth Forum tried to tackle this by securing subsidies for 1200 participants, aiming to support the participation of a diverse range of youth organisations and to ensure varied input into the debates. In addition, we were successful in creating a partnership with InterRail, providing 100 participants with travel to the event.
- Often we hear that young people are uninterested in EU policies, elections and general in issues related to EU politics. Do you agree and how do you explain this phenomenon?
It is true that there is generally low participation in EU politics amongst young people. For example, when it comes to voting in European elections, voter turnout was very low among young people in the last elections (29% of under 25s voted). A recent report by the League of Young Voters found that apathy and absenteeism at EU elections develops because political parties do not take the issues that matter to young people into account. This becomes a vicious circle, since because young people aren’t voting in large numbers, parties ignore what they want and so apathy amongst young people develops. However, the report also found that young people are really engaged and active in society, just not always through the traditional means.
- On the other hand, do you think that average young person is aware of for exp. YFJ, its mission and activities and how it contributes (or not) to his/her everyday life? Is there an apathy related solely to high politics and institutions or it spreads to youth organizing as well and what would be the consequences, if any?-
It is perfectly normal that not each young person in Europe is aware of the fact we exist and fight for their rights. We are not based on individual membership thus the connection and link between us and young people directly is always via our members that are platforms or federations of national, regional and local grassroots youth organisations, youth clubs, students unions etc. The EYE event and our annual YOFest are both an occasion to bridge this gap and bring the work of the Youth Forum closer to young people directly and we look forward to making most of this opportunity.
It is true that there seems to be a lack of knowledge and awareness of the importance of the EU among young people and how it impacts their daily lives. This, of course, contributes to the apathy. The consequences are serious: if young people do not engage in political life and in elections then their voice is not heard.
- Which one of the 5 topics that are in the focus of EYE is most pressuring in your opinion and why?
For the European Youth Forum, youth unemployment is a huge issue. Whilst the older generations are moving out of the economic crisis, Europe’s youth are being left behind. With staggeringly high unemployment rates across Member States, Europe’s youth risks becoming a “lost generation”. For those young people that do have a job, often it is precarious, short term or part time employment and these type of poor quality jobs can have a long-term impact of young people’s careers, impeding their ability to live fulfilling autonomous lives.
- YFJ seems to be addressing youth unemployment problem quite much. What is your vision of resolving it and what role civil society may have in this regard?
EU programmes, such as the youth guarantee, have huge potential to tackle youth unemployment, but only if Member States have the political will and ambition to properly implement them. Civil society should be key to the development of schemes such as this, both in the planning and implementation of them. Our publication on the youth guarantee can give further information on how youth organisations in particular can be more involved.
- YFJ has non-EU members in its lines, too, enjoying same right as EU members. Speaking of which, what is your take on participation of European non-EU groups/organisations in the EYE? How relevant this event is for these people?
Whilst the EYE, as a European Parliament initiative, is primarily for groups from within the EU, the Youth Forum places great importance on the participation of non-EU citizens in European decision-making and successfully lobbied for their right to participate in the EYE. Groups attending the EYE from our international member organisations include those from outside the EU as we are convinced that their input is vital. The Youth Forum strongly believes in mobility for young people across borders both within and into Europe.
The European Parliament and the EU generally has, in the past, been interested in support of non-EU youth organisations. One example, on which the Youth Forum worked, was the revision of the rules governing visas for youth organisation volunteers, school pupils and interns coming from outside the EU. The Parliament, for example, pushed for stronger guarantees and easier procedures for organisations hosting young people. However, in not implementing all of the Youth Forum’s demands it still puts limitations on youth mobility and high visa fees are one, which the Commission has unfortunately not abolished for young people under 35 as we had demanded.
- Former “Youth in Action”, now “Erasmus+” seems to be good opportunity for youth participation and mobility, but there are certain limitations?
Many young people from non-EU countries have benefited from the EU programmes, particularly the Youth in Action and we are advocating to ensure that this will continue under the new Erasmus+ programme. There are namely a number of non-EU countries that are included in the Programme Guide as full Programme Countries. However, bilateral agreements need to be negotiated between those countries and the EU in order to finalise that which will most likely happen by the end of the year. Switzerland was originally included in the list of full Programme Countries but following the results of the Referendum held in February on Switzerland’s system of immigration the negotiations of a bilateral agreement are put on hold.
As for the Partner Countries Neighbouring the EU, at the moment they have a limited access to the Programme compared to the last years of implementation of the Youth in Action Programme. Even in this case, the closer involvement of those countries in the Programme depends on specific agreements. The EU has allocated resources in the EU External Action Programmes (IPA II, ENI etc.) to be used to allow those countries to benefit in a more active way of the Erasmus+ Programme. We don’t know yet when these agreements will be finalised but their results depends on the negotiations between their governments and the European Commission. The European Youth Forum is monitoring the process and hopes to see the Programme opened to those countries as soon as possible.
YFJ will be co-authoring a report with the European Youth Press, which will be a summary of the EYE and will highlight the main outcomes of the event, as well as the key concerns of young people covering the main themes of the event. As Matjašič highlights – the report will not only be a description of the event however, but the Youth Forum will have dedicated pages for political commentary and critical analysis of the event and the inclusion of young people in policy making. “The report will provide a strong basis for the Youth Forum to take forward the main outcomes of the EYE and hold the new Parliament accountable to these findings. It will be objective and independent of the Parliament and will be written by young journalists themselves”, he said.