How the EU Youth Conference taught me to be a contributor

author: Ani Khachatryan   12-11-2017

The golden autumn turned into winter with one night of massive snowfall in Tallinn, prompting the Estonian hosts to sheepishly apologise for the weather in their country. The guests to whom they were apologising had gathered in the digital capital of the EU to participate in various simultaneous conferences organised by the Estonian Presidency of the Council of the EU.

On 23-26 October 2017, Tallinn brought together over 260 young people from the EU and its neighbouring countries as part of the 6th cycle of the Structured Dialogue to think over the issues facing youth in Europe and consider next steps.

For the first time, Eastern Partnership (EaP) youth were also represented at the EU Youth Conference, having been invited by the Estonian Presidency. The conference gave me and my friends, all Young European Ambassadors (YEAs) from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, the chance to speak up and represent the voices of young people from our countries.

"What I take home from the conference is an understanding that young people in Europe are no different from the youth of the EaP countries: we have similar problems and we should work together in order to find effective solutions,"- says Samir Salimzade, a YEA from Azerbaijan and a good friend of mine. I also firmly believe that working together makes the EU and EaP youth stronger together, and this conference was proof of that.

At the conference, working in self-organised groups, armed with various tools and a creative approach, we contributed to shaping the future EU youth strategy. The creative atmosphere of the Kultuurikatel – Tallinn Creative Hub, where the conference was held, increased our creativity, and as a result we harvested a wealth of ideas and solutions to youth issues in Europe.

"I believe that no policies should be discussed without people who are directly affected by them. Public bodies often come up with strategies which look promising on paper, but fail during the implementation phase, because they don’t necessarily reflect the needs of youth. This is why listening to young people is so important. Without it, the policies will never become effective,"- says Rebeka Ninikova, a high school student from Slovakia.

Another exciting experience we had in Tallinn was meeting Kersti Kaljulaid, the President of Estonia, and having a short Q&A session with her. The biggest lesson I learnt from this conference came from her: she advised us, young Europeans, not to be consumers but to be contributors.

"I could never have imagined that one day speaking to a President would become a reality for me. And frankly, it was really not an easy task to choose only one question to ask. After having a conversation and addressing the most pressing concerns of the youth to the President I may affirm that our voices, voices of young people, are heard – and I'm sure that youth representation in various state institutions will increase in the future,"- says my counterpart from Belarus, YEA Alesia Petrovets.

So, the EU youth conference in Tallinn is now part of history. It provided an opportunity to find out what matters to young people in our countries, and aimed at defining a common understanding. So, what's next?

"Our generation has more opportunities than any other generation has ever had... I strongly believe that our common causes are firstly to shape our new youth strategy in a way that responds to our needs, and secondly to continue standing and speaking up more for our rights. To those with ideas and positive mindsets, do you know what is coming next? Bulgaria is next,"- says Raycho Raychev, board member of the National Youth Forum of Bulgaria, referring to the fact that the next EU Youth conference will take place in Sofia, Bulgaria. The conference will concentrate on youth goals and hold consultations to gather input from the delegates.

On my way home, I felt really satisfied, as the conference was such a success for the team of YEAs. We offered four topics – youth unemployment, disinformation and media literacy, mobility and differences between urban and rural areas – that is to say, we contributed to shaping future EU youth policies that will impact on our lives further down the line.

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