Better scrutiny and management of food waste, an internationally agreed European history curriculum to combat nationalism, and better knowledge of the EU via the creation of a European day for schools. These were the main recommendations made to policy-makers by the students who took part in Your Europe, Your Say! (YEYS) to overcome the challenges the EU is facing.
At the youth event organised by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), a group of 100 bright high-school students from 33 schools in the EU-28 and the 5 candidate countries gathered to share their fresh and innovative ideas on the direction the EU should take in the years to come.
Many people believe the young generation is nothing more than a future in the making, said Andri Pandoura, the 17-year-old winner of the 2016 European Youth Essay Competition.
But we are not. We are the present, a present that cares and has the potential, if not to change the world, to at least try. This is why we need more investment in youth trainings, programmes and conferences, and, most importantly, more trust in the young generation.
The group discussed the hottest topics of the moment, including youth unemployment, integration of migrants, social and gender inequalities, the environment, economic recovery, terrorism and security. They then came up with 10 concrete proposals to policy-makers.
After an intense and lively debate on the different proposals, the students agreed on three priorities to improve the future of the European Union:
- Reduce food waste to help the impoverished and promote sustainability
- Combat nationalism through interactive education and an internationally agreed history curriculum
- Increase political interest in Europe by tapping the potential of social media and education, introducing attractive content and a Europe day for schools.
EESC members and policy-makers were struck by the young students' capacity to think out of the box and reflect on the most important issues affecting European societies nowadays.
You are our present and future, and Europe needs you, remarked EESC Vice-President Gonçalo Lobo Xavier in his opening speech.
You will have the opportunity to be heard no matter your beliefs, race or colour, and that’s priceless. The big reward is to meet people from everywhere and to mark your position on the future of Europe.
The priorities of our youth
Students showed great concern for environmental issues and poverty by voting for the proposal to reduce food waste and help the impoverished. One student who made the case for the winning proposal said:
further scrutiny in agricultural processes to differentiate safe from unsafe food is urgently needed. The EU has not done enough to reduce waste and encourage the donation of crops to shelters for the hungry.
Education was identified as one of the most important tools to help solve the current challenges and threats.
The problem we have is that people have lost faith in the EU, said another young participant, who proposed the creation of a European educational day in schools to increase common knowledge about the EU and stimulate debates.
The rise of nationalist sentiments in many member states, sparked by the fear of migration, unemployment or terrorism, was also in the spotlight of discussions. To combat it, the young delegates proposed EU funds be allocated to the creation of an internationally agreed European history curriculum to teach kids our common history and shared values.
A group of youngsters proposed the creation of national organisations to help refugees integrate, with EU financial and structural support:
we need an educational programme to teach refugees our culture, but we should also learn about theirs. Because if only they know who we are and we don’t know who they are, we will always be afraid of them and multiculturalism will never work.
The need to stimulate youth entrepreneurship through training courses and internship opportunities was also raised by the students, who stressed that
only by supporting entrepreneurship can our countries solve unemployment and increase living standards.
Young voices to have an impact
The EESC will ensure the youth's proposals to give the EU a better future are heard by lawmakers by feeding them into the Committee's opinions and sending the three most voted recommendations to the European Commission. In addition, a delegation of YEYS students will present the winning proposals during the EESC’s Civil Society Days on 26-27 June.
In her closing speech, EESC member Evangelia Kekeleki said:
It is fascinating to discuss with you, the young generation, and listen to your ideas. Today I am totally convinced that you are very good heirs to my generation. You can build another Europe, a Europe of values and solidarity, a Europe that works for its people and not only for money. It is up to you to create the Europe you deserve.
More info on Your Europe, Your Say! is available on the EESC webpage.