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EYE Online: Youth participation in times of COVID-19

This article is a follow up to EYE online and is inspired by the activity "Youth participation and policy action in times of Covid-19". EYE online aimed to compensate for the postponement of European Youth Event 2020 by proposing online activities to young Europeans in the framework of the EuropeansAgainstCovid19 EU campaign. All the activities of EYE online can be watched here.

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned our lives upside down in every way possible. In the moment that our societies needed it most, youth organisations have offered their helping hand to communities around them. As Europe slowly recovers from the first wave of the virus and puts a recovery plan in place, meaningful youth participation is essential for any serious policy debate.

”Young people are and should be part of the solution. […] They should be part of the action plan to reconstruct our society.”

Francesca Cristea

Involving youth when we rebuild society. From unemployment to mental health issues, the crisis has taken its toll on young people. At the same time, youth groups have done their part to help our societies face the coronavirus outbreak and life in lockdown.

Petar Mladenov spoke about UNDPA’s “Youth Against COVID-19” campaign: a video which shares advice on managing one's health during the crisis, which has reached over half a million young people around the world. Francesca Cristea shared stories about youth groups delivering food and medical supplies to vulnerable groups, and even raising funds directly for healthcare systems. As they design their responses to the pandemic, governments should partner with civil society organisations that can mobilise volunteers for the common good, Cristea suggested. This is already the case across the world: countries in the Middle East are providing micro-grants for youth-led activities related to tackling COVID-19. Young people have demonstrated their capability and willingness to help – governments should make the most of this resource.

Youth participation in decision-making is a question of putting quality first. Because the pandemic has suddenly affected all aspects of our lives, the stakes of public discussion are particularly high. Youth participation in this debate should not only be a PR trick by governments. Rather, the opportunities for participating should be genuine, and of high quality.

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Responding to an audience question about who should develop and enforce any common standards for youth participation, Marius Schlageter said young people should propose the criteria themselves. Other speakers pointed to some needed criteria for meaningful participation: a small enough number of participants in individual real-life events, letting young people shape the agenda, including elected representatives of youth organisations, involving youth from marginalised groups, and more.

Schlageter envisioned governments and youth organisations agreeing the standards together, and governments committing themselves to following the guidelines.

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Letting youth shape the agenda of public conversation as our societies build up economic and social resiliance would be the first opportunity for local, national and European decision-makers to demonstrate that they are committed to not just hearing, but listening to, young people.

Developing meaningful goals is paramount. Successful youth participation is not only about listening to the right people in the right way – it is also about reaching concrete conclusions. In Petar Mladenov’s view, one advantage of the EU’s “European Youth Goals” was that they were tied to measurable objectives. These goals form an integral part of the EU’s 2019–2027 youth strategy. A clear objective, and a way to ensure follow-up, improve the chance of ideas turning into action.

Though the first wave of the epidemic in Europe is abating, the discussion on what long-term lessons we should learn from the COVID-19 experience is still only beginning. In other words, the floor is open for your ideas, and your input. The threads on the European Youth Ideas site are just one way to leave your message to decision-makers. Young people should continue contributing their talent and energy into COVID-19 responses around Europe. In the words of Francesca Cristea, “the world and our societies need us more than ever”.

These topics were addressed in the EYE Online session on “Youth Participation and Policy Action in Times of COVID-19”. Hosted by Silja Markkula of the European Youth Forum, the session featured three speakers: Francesca Cristea from the Romanian Youth Council, Marius Schlageter from the German Federal Youth Council, and Petar Mladenov from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The European Parliament's support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents, which reflect the views only of the authors, and the Parliament cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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