On 21 and 22 March 2019, 102 students and 36 teachers from all 28 EU Member States and the five EU candidate countries (Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey) and from one Brussels-based European School, accompanied by three participants from previous YEYS events, met at the EESC in Brussels for Your Europe, Your Say! 2019.
This year, the title of the EESC's youth event was "YEYS turns 10: Vote for the future!", referring to the European elections on 23-26 May and to the fact that this year marks the event's tenth anniversary since it began in 2010.
Before the two days in Brussels, each of the 34 schools, selected by lot, was visited by an EESC member who helped prepare the students for the debates with their peers. Upon their arrival at the EESC, the participants were welcomed by Isabel Caño, EESC vice-president responsible for communication, after which an interactive digital publication created for YEYS's tenth anniversary was presented to them (now available at www.eesc.europa.eu/EESC-youth-event/YEYS/index.html).
The event was formally opened in the afternoon of 21 March during a plenary session chaired by Isabel Caño, who stressed that Europe was a unique project and thanked both the teachers for enabling the young students to take part in YEYS, and the members for their commitment when visiting the schools.
The EESC president, Luca Jahier then pointed out that in February the EESC had organised an event called "Civil society for rEUnaissance" with the participation of 16 year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who started a youth-oriented global movement in defence of the climate. "I think Greta is a perfect example of how young people can fight for a cause by advocating for it and putting practical proposals to those with the power to decide. This is representative democracy at its very best, with continuous civic engagement to improve things and change our society," he said.
Young Mateusz Tyszka, runner-up in the 2018 Olympics for Knowledge on the European Union, an event organised each year in Poland, told participants about his experience, emphasising that "Sometimes hard work is not enough to succeed: you need to be passionate about what you do. Never give up on your dreams!"
Irini Pari, EESC member and initiator of YEYS, then gave a passionate speech in which she described how YEYS started back in 2010 despite the eruption of an Icelandic volcano and said how happy she was to see that the event was still giving a voice to the thoughts and worries of different generations of young citizens. She also pointed out that three former participants were taking part in this year's event. "I believe deeply in democracy, that is the separation of powers, the rule of law and a voice for citizens. I believe deeply in young people and their dynamics. Just open your wings: Europe is yours and the world is yours".
Lastly, a video message by Sylvie Guillaume, vice-president of the European Parliament, was shown to participants. She described the Parliament's role in the European decision-making process and explained why increasing voter turnout was so important for the representativeness of our institutions and for stronger democracy. She also urged everyone to participate in the www.thistimeimvoting.eu campaign.
In a series of workshops, the young participants were then able to discuss the topic of the event and to draw up 10 resolutions, which they presented in a final plenary session chaired by Isabel Caño. They voted for the three they judged to be the most important; in fact, there turned out to be four, as there were joint winners:
1. #Future is now: an EU syllabus on politics and voting to increase knowledge.
Teenagers need a formal setting to understand why voting is important, through practical, theoretical and interactive lessons, such as events that will bring fellow students from the EU together to debate in order to create an end-of-year project.
2. EU&U. EU: a website increasing the transparency of representative democracy with clearer content which provides all the useful information.
Transparency is key to the functioning of the EU: Europeans need to have easy access to information, which is currently scattered across a number of channels. We need a website providing unbiased information and facts, with an event and a Q&A section where people will be able to interact directly with their MEPs and would-be representatives in the EP. This website should be advertised on various media, so as to reach as many people as possible.
3. EUROVOTE - a privilege, not a chore: Europe-wide election day held in all Member States on the same day.
In order to ensure wider participation in the European elections, we need to involve everyone, including people with disabilities and the elderly. This must be done by providing everyone with more information and making election day an EU-wide national holiday in which multiple cultural and sporting activities take place to inspire people to vote. An e-voting system also needs to be rolled out so that everyone can take part from home. This system should be effective, safe and versatile, drawing on available technical solutions.
3. From You to EU - connecting social movements with #EUelections2019: a taskforce connecting social movements with politicians.
Act: start and lead social movements.
Connect: a taskforce making connections between the European institutions and social movements through events in which EU representatives take part to discuss demonstrators' requests.
Achieve: meetings of the political representatives and the social movements with experts in a certain field (such as climate change) in order to reach quick solutions. The EU should set the goals and Member States should implement the laws.
Lastly, Isabel Caño commented that social media are important in order to remain connected, but human relationships are even more important: being together, for example at events like YEYS, provides tremendous added value. She then brought the proceedings to a close and congratulated all the participants on their excellent work. The three winning recommendations will be sent to the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission. More follow-up actions are planned.