Workshop 5: Youth activism to counter the shrinking civic space and contribute to a sustainable future for Europe

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Background

A sustainable and socially just Europe cannot exist without a robust civic space and particularly dedicated means and spaces for youth engagement in the society and decision-making. The European Union as we know it today is built on democratic principles, and EU membership requires functioning democracy. Functioning democracy cannot be imagined without an active civil society.

While civil society in Europe in recent decades has flourished and received increasing support, the recent trends of violation of the rule of law, populism and centralisation of power have lead to several challenges for meaningful involvement of civil society, be they legal, financial or political.

Moreover, in 2019 we were witnesses to a global youth movement that took their activism to the streets of the world. From Lisbon to Seoul, young people are demanding climate action and to have a say in their future. However, there are clearly very few ways for young people to participate in decisions taken about the climate or other topics that affect their lives now and in the future. We are also getting ready for the Conference on the Future of Europe, which includes an ambitious plan of the European Commission to bring on board the views of diverse citizens, with a specific focus on young people, to shape the direction for Europe. As Volonteurope and European Youth Forum, we want the future of Europe to work for everyone and ensure no one is left behind.The workshop will bring together these dimensions together, elaborating on how to counter obstacles that civil society is facing and to seek new avenues, and open the necessary space for participation, responding to the growing interest of young citizens across the globe. In particular, we will focus on three policy priorities for the Conference on the Future of Europe, bringing our recommendations that address the themes:

  • European values, fundamental rights and freedoms
  • Democratic and institutional aspects of the EU
  • Environmental challenges and the climate crisis

Concept of the workshop

Narrative

This workshop, offered by two major European networks – Volonteurope and the European Youth Forum – will offer participants space to explore recent trends and grassroots experiences from various European countries with regard to how civil society, and youth organisations in particular, are fighting for a meaningful space to participate in and receive adequate support for civil society activities, countering ongoing shrinking civic space. Furthermore, it will build on the global call from young people across the world to have a say on climate action and their future, seeking sustainable and uniform ways to involve young people in decision-making on climate policy. This should both provide direct follow-up to activism in the streets and attempt to further open the space for civic engagement. 

Participants will hear from the young people directly: their stories, their experiences, and their successful initiatives and lessons learned in contributing to the topic of the workshop. An interactive approach will ensure that participants can share their ideas and take something back to their own situations – tips, inspiration and methods.

The young people participating might talk about the impact of their actions locally, regionally, nationally and at a European level, the scope of their projects and work and the reactions of political decision-makers to their work.

Among others, we aim to address and explore the following questions:

  • How can we recognise and counter constraints on civil society?
  • How does youth social action contribute to a sustainable future for Europe?
  • How do young people perceive a sustainable future for Europe in all its dimensions – social, economic, democratic, environmental? How can young people participate in decision-making on climate policies in a structured and meaningful way?
  • What more can the European Union and its institutions and Member States do to support their actions on the ground?

Participants

We look to engage young activists, young people directly involved in volunteering and social action, participants in active citizenship projects, facilitators of European and global citizenship education and those who have experienced obstacles to participation. We will aim to ensure participation of experts or decision-makers from relevant fields, such as climate policy, and/or citizens’ rights, who can contribute to and enrich the discussion.

Format and agenda

The workshop will be structured to combine different, inclusive methods, including short contributions from young activists and experts and dynamic discussion to exchange views on the topic. The format will be adjusted to be interactive, engaging and make sure that the topic is accessible to people who are not yet familiar with it. An transparent voting system will allow for the participants as a collective to decide on a key recommendation from each of the thematic breakout sessions.

09:30 – 09:35          Welcome from the facilitator and workshop organisers

  • Workshop Facilitator (Name TBC)
  • Judit Lantai; Policy Officer on Strong Youth Organisations, European Youth Form
  • Piotr Sadowski; Secretary General, Volonteurope

09:35 – 09:45          Welcome from the EESC Members

  • Cillian Lohan
  • Pavel Trantina

09:45 – 10:00          Energising Activity led by:

  • Scott Graham, Youth Engagement Manager, ProjectScotland, UK
  • Workshop Facilitator (Name TBC)

10:00 – 10:45          Breakout sessions:

  1. “European values, fundamental rights and freedoms”
  • Constantin Dedu, Youth Trainer and Teacher, Romania
  • Giada Negri, Research and Advocacy Officer, European Civic Forum, France
  1. “Democratic and institutional aspects of the EU”
  • Georg Weil, Social Pedagogue, Austria
  • Leoni Martin, President of the Executive Board, JEF Europe, Brussels
  1. “Environmental challenges and the climate crisis”
  • Lena Kollmuss, Youth and Climate Activist, Germany
  • Álvaro González Pérez, Vice President and External Relations Director, AEGEE Europe, Brussels (on behalf of Generation Climate Europe)

10:45 – 11:15          Coffee break

11:15 – 12:00          Recommendation pitches from the breakout sessions

12:00 – 12:15          Voting and announcement of the results

12:15 – 12:30          Closing words from the workshop organisers and EESC Members

 

Youth activism to counter the shrinking civic space and contribute to a sustainable future for Europ