Monday, 26 November 2012

The Day After: Final thank you & public apology

My body and mind are still recovering from the awesome but very demanding and intense days of last week in Maribor during the European Youth Forum General Assembly as well as the preceding weeks and months of an electoral campaign.
At this point I want to give my sincere thanks to the following who made this GA possible: first and foremost the host city of Maribor and the entire team behind the European Youth Capital 2013, both those that have worked on this since two years ago and those who joined in recently: hvala! Second, a
huge thank you goes also to the team of the National Youth Council of Slovenia (MSS), especially Kamal and Tea who give it their absolute all to make this happen. Thanks also to predecessor Tine for helping build bridges between the past and present. Third, my deepest appreciation goes to the administrative team from our Secretariat, especially Luc who has been with us for several decades and never lost his energy and patience to support us in our cause: dank u wel! Of course a huge merci to all other Secretariat members for the brilliant job done, you truly are the best in-house team! Last but not least a big thanks to all the candidates, especially to those who didn't elected but contributed in making this GA an open and democratic contest offering the membership a choice between different approaches and visions and to Juha-Pekka for being an excellent example of how one should behave after not winning an election: kiitos!

It has been an exceptional event and I am very honoured and humbled by achieving the set goal of being re-elected as President of this wonderful platform. As President (re)elect I hereby promise that I will continue giving it my all to ensure that this platform remains the legitimate voice of young people and youth organisations in Europe offering solutions to the plentiful challenges European youth face by working with and for the young people. I promise that I will continue striving for even more openness, more inclusiveness and more transparency towards our member organisations and embed them into our work to the maximum extent. The members have decided on a more focused approach to the Forum's work already earlier this year with a set of new strategic priorities that will guide us for the coming six years. At the GA they have adopted a Work-Plan that defines the scope of policy and advocacy work for the coming two years. It is now up to the leadership of this platform to ensure this plan is fully realised.

I am ready to take on this work together with the professional support of our Secretariat but most of all with a dedicated and motivated team of volunteer Board members. I look forward to build on their enthusiasm expressed during their bid to become members of the Youth Forum Board for the period 2013-14 and the experience of two of my colleagues from the current Board that were given the recognition for their excellent work by being entrusted with the two Vice-President positions.

I also wanted to use this opportunity to offer my current Board members, especially the new Vice-President Lloyd Russell-Moyle, a public apology for some of the comments I have made during the final moments of the General Assembly. Improvisation is never an easy thing and in this case it backfired. In a moment of sheer exhaustion while thanking my outgoing Board members I tried to
be witty and use irony to highlight their strengths and contribution to the work completed, what is clear is this was not appropriate. I also apologise to Guoda for mentioning a nickname publicly I was
sometimes teasing her with but especially to Lloyd who I tried to joke about, mentioning things which were simply not true. In the first 7 months he completed an impressive 50 days plus of volunteering, away from home for the Youth Forum, not to mention the long nights reading papers and preparing reports. He achieved this whilst being an EVS for IFM-SEI, a student and Chairperson of his home organisation Woodcraft Folk, an admirable feat. I apologise for this and the other comments to all Board members which could have seemed derogatory and wish to re-enforce the praise that I have for the work of all the outgoing Board members.

I feel the need to also offer this public apology and clarification as, despite occasionally all of us
dropping the ball, my two new Vice-Presidents have been nothing but fully dedicated to the cause and an excellent advocates for youth-related issues and youth work in the last two years. I’m sure we look forward to another two successful years with the whole team.

I believe in accountability and I believe that nobody is perfect and we all make mistakes. My strength has always been the ability to realise mine quickly and trying to rectify the consequences in an open manner. I'm fully confident that such moments offer me and others the opportunity to grow and become even better persons and help us move on.

I feel empowered after this GA but also confirmed in my conviction that I need to continue to focus more and better and to allow myself enough time to think of myself and my needs as well since this platform needs a healthy, sharp and determined leader with as little gaffs as possible. I promise I will work on this and try to live up to your expectations as well as my own.
Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Youth Work in Europe and YFJ General Assembly 

A lot is going through my head right now in these last hours ahead of the European Youth Forum General Assembly in Maribor, Slovenia. The official start of the GA is on Thursday morning but the kick-off is already this evening with the delegates arriving and the organising team finalising the last bits of what promises to be an excellent encounter full of fresh ideas, suggestions, discussions and opposing views for the future of our platform. 

As a last content-related point on this blog I would like to share my answer to the following question I was asked during the numerous interviews with member organisations:

How do you understand the importance of youth work nowadays in European continent and what are the main challenges you identify at the moment? 

For me youth work has been crucial for my personal development and all the aspects that I link to youth work - youth participation, volunteering, non-formal education and peer-education methodology, youth organisations - help young people in improving their skills, their self-esteem, contribute to their autonomy and much more. In times of crisis such a tool is priceless and should be recognised and supported. The main challenges are to get the recognition of youth work to a higher level and outside the usual suspects. 
This implies the following: 
  • youth organisations (both INGYOs and NYCs) to be recognised as a relevant partner and experts in the field and the ones shaping/developing youth policies; 
  • having an appropriate financial support through admin grants, project grants for youth-led projects and volunteer work to be considered as co-funding (Volunteer Time Contribution - VTC);
  • youth work to be recognised as an added value for individuals and society as a whole;
  • explain and promote the impact of youth work;
  • recognition of skills and competences gained through youth work and NFE + informal learning (e.g. Europass, Youthpass, ECTS credits);
  • formal recognition of youth work via resolutions, programmes, etc.
The Forum should work on all these issues together with its members in the coming year(s).

There are so many other issues and topics I wanted to discuss on this blog but due to time constraints it wasn't possible to cover all of them. However, I look forward to the opportunity to further explain the work I have done and would like to do when addressing the members in plenary and talking to their representives in person on the spot.

As in each election campaign there were ups and downs and in the coming days there will be some heated moments in which emotions will be running high on all sides. I plan to cherish these moments and learn from them as this is why I put myself out there, because I love a good challenge. There will be winners and there will be losers, however, the most important thing is that whatever happens the platform will leave Maribor on Sunday as a platform that abides by its own rules of democracy, inclusiveness, openness and transparency and as such be a strong advocate for the voice of young people and youth organisations in Europe.

I wish all the candidates the best for these upcoming days. You should enjoy this moment, though it won't always be easy, and I thank each and everyone of you and your nominating organisations for having the courage, the energy and the motivation to put your name forward and ensure that the Youth Forum membership has a genuine and quality choice for all the positions available, something we should all be very proud off.

Let us have a great General Assembly!
Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Youth Employment in Times of Crisis

Youth unemployment in Europe has reached unprecedentedly high levels. In some countries, close to a half of young people are without a job. These rates are twice or even three times as high as those of the entire working population.

We are all painfully aware that unemployment and precarious working conditions seriously affect the life of each and every individual and that young people are especially vulnerable in this regard. Young people today face difficulties in entering the labour market and are often faced with precarious working conditions and atypical working contracts (e.g. unpaid internships or self-employed based contracts) facing difficulties in having a stable job. This has a serious effect on their lives and prevents them from becoming autonomous and be fully integrated in the society.

That is why the European Youth Forum has decided in its Strategic Priorities for 2013-18 to focus on youth autonomy and inclusion of young people in Europe. Our understanding of youth autonomy as “the situation where young people have the necessary support, resources and opportunities to chose to live independently, to run their own lives and to have full social and political participation in all sectors of everyday life, and be able to take independent decisions.” (see YFJ Policy Paper on Youth Autonomy, document 0052-04).

The issues related to youth employment will continue to be in the forefront of the advocacy work of the Youth Forum. We already have the policies developed based on the participatory and inclusive process in which we adopt positions within our platform. We had the discussions on the terminology that we use and what we understand with the different concepts. E.g. when the Youth Forum is talking about “quality jobs” it is using this terms in opposition to precarious work situations, to unpaid internships and in line with the believe that the right to decent work should be respected and that young people are particularly affected by ending up having shity first jobs that influence their future career. In summary, we talk about "quality employment" and how quality education and a good transition from education to the labour market is key in this regard.

What we need to do now is to continue advocating and pushing for the realisation of such initiatives as a European youth guarantee scheme that could help cater for the needs of young people facing unprecedented hardship across our continent. We need to continue the excellent work on promoting the European Charter on Quality Internship and Apprenticeships among all relevant stakeholders, including business like we did with Microsoft signing up to it yesterday in Brussels (see story here).

In its Position Paper on Youth Entrepreneurship, the European Youth Forum affirmed its belief that young people deserve the chance to impact on society, as well as to create stable futures for themselves, via the means of enterprise. However, youth often find themselves disadvantaged, especially when attempting to embark on entrepreneurial endeavours. The lack of finances and resources available, as well as an unfortunate and devastating lack of support from educational and governmental structures means that young people often find entrepreneurship a sector simply too difficult or even impossible to break into. Youth entrepreneurship is thus not a magical solution that will automatically unleash the creative and innovative potential of young people. But it is important to ensure and promote proper education and information on the possibilities offered by youth entrepreneurship, to advocate for a common European framework that helps promote youth entrepreneurship without putting young people at even more risk and to demystify entrepreneurship as something negative.

The Youth Forum in its next mandate will have to focus on where is the added value it can bring to youth employment related issues. We need to make an assessment of what can and should be done by the Forum directly and where we can and should work better together with our member organisations. The Youth Employment Action consortium has proven a great tool to exchange good practices and foster new ideas between members from both pillars of the Forum. As such it can even serve as an inspiration for other future working structures in the Forum. The work of the YEA should continue and the consortium enlarged with new members.

Moreover, there will be a big need for coordinated action between the Forum and the National Youth Councils in specific crisis-hit countries to ensure the policy measures taken at European level are translated into concrete action at national, regional and local levels. We have witnessed during this year that the European Council and European Commission have made bold statements on how unused funds have been reallocated to member states to help them fight youth unemployment but when we tried to get clarity on how, when and what exactly we didn't get any answer. On the contrary, we got some ministers telling us there was no such thing in their country as they didn't need help. So it is our task to continue monitoring and scrutinising the implementation of the commitments made by all the relevant stakeholders in this.

If re-elected I want to help stir this process and ensure we have internally a cross-sectorial approach to all issues related to youth employment and to continue presenting a coherent set of measures and proposals coming from the young people and their representatives towards decision-makers. And to listen and be alert to the demands of young people on the streets of European capitals to better understand their needs, their suggestions and try to translate that into the policy language and advocacy for which the Youth Forum has the know-how and capacity to do and thus implement its mission to empower young people to participate actively in society to improve their own lives, by representing and advocating their needs and interests and those of their organisations.
Wednesday, 7 November 2012 

Structured Dialogue Achievements

In this blog entry I want to present the successful transformation of the process of Structured Dialogue with young people in the European Union (EU) from a vague idea first mentioned back in a Council of Ministers Resolution in 2005 as a follow up to the White Paper on Youth for which the Youth Forum pushed very hard in its early years, to the Council Resolution in November 2009 which laid the ground for the structured dialogue process. As Chair of the European Steering Committee since January 2011 I oversaw the transition from the first to the second cycle and now the preparation of a third one. Despite many challenges remaining it is important to focus on and stress the achievements.
Structured dialogue has now become a standard, an established process for youth participation in policy-making in the youth field at EU level. The participatory process is successfully implemented in all EU Member States – through functional National Working Groups – and at EU level – coordinated by European Steering Committee and conducted at EU Youth Conferences.

Structured Dialogue strengthened the Youth Forum's cooperation with the Presidencies and the Commission and opened up the opportunity to communicate and influence youth policies in the Council (Youth Working Party); it brought a much improved cooperation with Presidencies in drafting youth policies: a clear example is that at the invitation of the Cyprus Presidency, the Youth Forum submitted a direct contribution to the draft Council Resolution on Structured Dialogue that was being discussed in the Council Youth Working Party (to be adopted in November 2012).

Structured Dialogue now has more political outcomes: the results of each phase fed directly into youth policy-making of the Council of the EU (high number of Joint Recommendations from the EU Youth Conferences were integrated directly in the text of the Council Conclusions on the topic in the ‘’Invite section’’). Compared to 1st cycle, young people were involved in all youth policies discussed by youth decision-makers in the Council – all Council Conclusions of the Youth Working Party. However, the follow-up and implementation of the political outcomes in Member States needs improvement and this will be one of the central elements of the 3rd cycle.

The progress is visible through an increased participation at all levels: 
  • National Working Groups (NWGs) organised successful participatory processes, not only at national level, but also at local and regional levels, involving many young people, youth organisations and various stakeholders such as national authorities, local and regional government, MEPs, etc. NWGs invested efforts in new and creative methods to improve the structured dialogue with young people. 
  • Much more INGYOs participated in the process in the second cycle (17 INGYOs versus 3 in 1st cycle) bringing a European dimension to discussions and a European added value to Structured Dialogue – progress acknowledged and welcomed by all actors, including  Commissioner Vassiluou. Building on this progress, there is still space for improvement particularly by securing the INGYOs’ participation in EU Youth Conferences in the 3rd cycle. 
  • National Youth Councils (NYCs) have a leading role in almost all NWGs. This proves that the process has developed the NYCs capacity and empowered them with a strong voice in the dialogue on youth policies in their respective countries.
The understanding and recognition of the Structured Dialogue is growing:
  • at national level, ministries other than Youth, members of national parliament and MEPs support the process in some Member States (e.g. Slovenia, Germany);
  • at EU level, the recognition of Structured Dialogue process and its outcomes is growing cross-sectorially: recently, EPSCO Council acknowledged the importance of structured dialogue with young people as a forum for continuous joint reflection in its Conclusions on 4 October;
  • Structured Dialogue has become an integral and significant part of the agenda of each Presidency to the extent that the Presidencies do not conceive not to address their priority of youth policy in the Structured Dialogue;
  • Structured dialogue is also developing at national level, some Member States having a separate process on national topics, proving again the value of the process and structures in place;
  • Structured Dialogue is now taken as model for other policy fields – e.g. intention to develop such a dialogue process in the education field.
All in all, structured dialogue is not the desired co-management principle we enjoy in the framework of the Council of Europe but has tangible impact on youth policy at EU level, improves participation of young people in decision-making, empowers the National Youth Councils as recognised representatives of young people and strengthens the cooperation between youth structures and policy-makers at national and European level.  

The process is far from being perfect, with main weaknesses being the lack of funding and deficient follow-up on the outcomes. The continuity of the 18-month process and coherence of the overall topic has been a major challenge of the 2nd cycle but we are pushing hard together with our NYCs to improve that in the 3rd cycle the Team Presidency Ireland-Lithuania-Greece. 

The Youth Forum with its clear position paper outlining the main points of improving the process and our members continue to be committed to the structured dialogue process as stressed at the recent seminar of NYCs in Limassol and other regional seminars organised by our member organisations. I want to thank all of them and the activists and youth workers behind this sometimes lengthy and difficult process which nonetheless contributes to the maximum extent currently possible in shaping youth policy at EU level directly.