Blog: Youth Action Week – how can youth fight democratic backsliding threats?
From 28 June to 1 July, a delegation of 16 Young European Ambassadors participated in the Youth Action Week organised by the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. This event was not only held as the flagship event of the “Democracy Here / Democracy Now” Campaign, but also as a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Youth Department of the Council of Europe. Created in 1972, this department notably helps young Europeans to become responsible and engaged citizens.
The event was divided into four plenary topics:
A – Revitalising democracy and access to rights
B – Meaningful youth participation
C – Digitalisation
D – Peace (reserved for the participants of the youth peace camp conference)
The week brought together activists, civil society, governmental actors and partners of the youth sector to discuss the current challenges to our democracies and the role of the youth in the revitalisation of the democratic process. Threats such as the rise of populism, pressures on minorities, disinformation, and shrinking spaces for civil society were notably discussed. Participating in this event was very meaningful to me. Not only was it a platform to share the reality of the Young European Ambassadors initiative and the countries it represents, but also to get new outlooks and understand the various other realities expressed by other participants.
The Youth Action Week resulted in a call for action. This call included recommendations addressed to stakeholders to revitalise democracy and support youth participation in the democratic processes at the local, national and international levels. This call is not an end in itself. It must be considered as a beginning, a guideline that any other individual, organisation, or stakeholder attached to democratic values can follow.
Globally speaking, the event was very intense but also very stimulating. In total, we were more than 400 young participants from all around Europe and beyond, gathered through our common belief in democratic values. The diversity of profiles, stories, knowledge and ideas made this event a very stimulating working environment. One of the most appreciable points was that the participants came from different levels of engagement, either at the local, national or international levels. The gathering of these different levels in the same events allowed us to have a better understanding of the complexity and multidimensionality of the challenges we discussed. I was also very pleased to note a considerable interest from the other participants in the Young European Ambassadors Initiative. I can only hope that some of them will join us or work with us in the future.
The Youth Action Week officially started on 28 June. Our first event was the opening session held in the Parliamentary Assembly chamber in the Palais de l’Europe. This session was an opportunity to get inspired by the speeches and supporting words from the official speakers:
Marija Pejcinovic Buric, Secretary General of the Council of Europe
Ambassador Breigne O’Reilly, Permanent Representative of Ireland and Chair of the Committee of Ministers
Spyros Papadatos, Chair of the Advisory Council on Youth
Veronique Bertholle, Deputy to the Mayor of the City of Strasbourg in charge of international and European relations.
This session was also a chance to hear the striking reflections of Maxime Lled, essayist and journalist, about the youth fracture in Europe and the first testimonies of participants from Ukraine, Georgia and the Youth Council of Strasbourg.
The afternoon was dedicated to group work divided by nationalities. All groups were given the same task: to discuss the contemporary threats to democracy and the implication of young people in order to revitalise it. One of the main interests of this activity was to get familiarised with the different initiatives, but also the democratic challenges going on in our own countries.
The two following days were dedicated to thematic workshops. These days were also an opportunity for several Young European Ambassadors to participate in a live-streamed discussion with the EU-CoE Youth Partnership. Each workshop was linked to one of the four plenary topics mentioned earlier. In total, 22 workshops were held in English or in French. Each participant was assigned to one workshop for the rest of the week. The aim of these workshops was to discuss and debate on the current challenges faced by our democracies and the role of the youth in democracy revival and design plans of action. For my part, I participated in a workshop entitled “Gender equality and democracy”. In this group, we notably discussed the questions of structural sexism, gender policy monitoring and the role of educational and cultural structures in the diffusion of gender norms.
A large number of workshops provided us, I believe, with a very neat and general understanding of the current democratic backsliding threats in Europe. Many topics were covered, such as the implication of youth in the elections, hate speeches, the connection between ecology and democracy, the role of education or even digital citizenship.
The last day was divided into three parts. The first was dedicated to plenary sessions according to the plenary themes of the week. During these sessions, each group had to identify the most relevant ideas and projects for the campaign and write proposals for the call for action. The participants of the plenary session I participated in also benefited from the testimonies of several guests. I was particularly receptive to the words of the former minister of education and foreign affairs of Malta, Eravist Bartolo, on the impacts of power rivalries on democratic education.
The second part was dedicated to meetings in national and stakeholder groups to discuss further campaign actions. This moment was also for us, Young European Ambassadors, an opportunity to obtain an exclusive interview with the EU ambassador to the Council of Europe, Meglena Kuneva. We presented to her Excellency the values of our organisation, and the actions undertaken by each of our chapters and also collected her testimony and advice.
The third part was dedicated to the closing session in the Parliamentary Assembly chamber where we presented the call for action in 50 points (the complete document is composed of more points but only 50 of them could be presented due to time constraints), followed by reflections and speeches from several official guests.
This week was such a beautiful opportunity, not only as a Young European Ambassador but also as an individual and a citizen. My colleagues and I were particularly moved by the common energy present during this event. The plurality of the profiles we met and the diversity of ideas we worked on inspired us very much. This kind of event really makes you understand the meaning of the slogan “Stronger together”. We cannot wait to participate in the following events related to this campaign.
To obtain more details about the actions undertaken during this week or to follow the implementation of our future projects related to the call of action please do not hesitate to follow the youth department of the Council of Europe, the EU-CoE Youth Partnership and the Young European Ambassadors on our respective social networks.
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