More women in politics and women leaders in Europe tomorrow Laura Danilas, Municipal Councillor of Tartu Municipality, Estonia Vice President of ELL Group This Sunday Estonia made history with an e-voting majority and a record female presence in the new parliament. Since then a record-high number of female representatives, a total of 30 women out of 101 were elected to Riigikogu, two more compared to in the previous elections. Kaja Kallas, the Prime Minister of Estonia secured 31816 votes which is a new record for a single candidate. Women’s participation in policy-making is fundamental to democratic governance. It helps to promote gender equality and influences both the types of policy issues that are considered and the types of solutions that are offered. It is also important to keep in mind that women prioritize more education, health and social welfare than masculine issues. Despite the fact that we have very strong female leaders in defense and economy women are more likely to be engaged in less attractive fields. Also, according to various surveys, increased representation of women helps also to counteract corruption in politics. The participation of women at the national, local and community level has become an important focus of global development. In order to make sustainable decisions we need more women in politics. It is crucial not to have a homogeneous group of policy makers, but men and women from different age groups and walks of life. To make the change we need girls in school to become women in politics – everything starts from the education system. It is clearly seen that political parties and their voters should support more women. In particular, men are more likely to vote for attractive male candidates, and women are more likely to vote for approachable male candidates. Thus, who supports women then? Greater inclusion of women in politics starts with supporting each other As Former British Prime Minister Mrgaret Thatcher said “If you want something said, ask a man, if you want something done, ask a woman.“

International Women’s Day By Julia Heinrich Local councillor in the 19th district of Vienna (Döbling), Austria General Secretary of ELL Group Women and female leaders in politics Every year, on the 8th of March, we speak about more female participation in various sectors of our society and equal chances between men and women. Despite many efforts and political reforms in the past decades, the results are still not fully satisfying until today. If we take a specific look into the political sector, we can notice that many youth organisations of political parties do have a good gender balance. This shows that many women are interested in politics and want to participate in the democratic processes that shape our societies and countries. Over the years, we can observe that many women leave the political sector after a certain time and therefore drop out, before they can reach higher leadership positions on the regional and national level. There are several reasons, but two main issues, which are well known but unfortunately not solved yet, are the lack of full time childcare facilities and the double standard, which is applied upon women in politics. Even though many cities and communities offer all day childcare nowadays, many of them do not provide care during school vacations. Summer vacations in Austria last for two months, but a regular employee has only five weeks of holidays each year – politicians mostly have even less than five weeks. Additionally we have semester, Easter, Christmas and numerous smaller holidays all year round. Women in the political sector often have to be flexible and work in the evenings or on the weekends. Without a universal childcare solution many women with the wish to have children are forced out of the political field at a certain age – many of them never come back. Another big issue is the different way we judge women and men in public and in the media. Women in politics are often criticised for the way they look or the way they dress. Especially young women have to work way harder than men to be taken seriously. This discourages many women from running for higher public offices. This problem can only be solved in cooperation with the media and by all of us, by paying attention to how we use our language when we judge women in the public sector. In conclusion, it is important to point out, that we have achieved a lot when it comes to gender equality, but there is still a lot of work ahead of us in order to fulfil the purpose of the International Women’s Day.

The Network of Young MEPs &, MEPs Kympouropoulos (EL-EPP), Peter-Hansen (DK-G/EFA), Vedrenne (FR-RE), and Moretti (IT-S&D), will host a two-day in-person conference of young elected politicians from right across the European Union. The initiative, which falls under the high patronage of the European Parliament and the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), is also actively supported by the CoR Young Elected Politicians Programme (YEPs) and the European Local Leaders Group (ELL). European Commission Vice-President, Mr. Margaritis Schinas, will open the conference. In light of the European Year of Youth, it is pivotal that we give a voice to our young people who are concretely contributing to real change in European politics and beyond. Taking place in Brussels, the conference will seek to give young elected officials a platform to share their ideas and experiences of the local, national, and EU dimensions, including an opportunity to meet their respective European counterparts. More than 80 young elected officials from across the EU will gather in Brussels for the two-day event, with a series of planned debates and discussions set to take place within the most important democratic institutions of Europe. Commenting on the initiative, Greek MEP Stelios Kympouropoulos (EPP), who is also one of the co-hosts of the conference, described how it was now “ time to enhance our common European identity by inviting young politicians to exchange not only views but also best practices and concerns about future challenges. Young politicians should take the floor and contribute to the future of the European Union. I am therefore delighted to be part of this effort to bring together young elected politicians in Brussels.”​“With an incredible team effort, different MEPs from the four biggest political parties represented at the European level, have joined forces across party lines, to develop an initiative that aims at bringing together young leaders of Europe, ” said Alessandro Da Rold, Managing Director of EU40 – the network of young MEPs. “This has never been done before,” he emphasised. An occasion for the participants both to learn in greater depth how the EU institutions function while also giving a platform for discussion in relation to the significant challenges and opportunities that Europe faces. Italian MEP Alessandra Moretti (S&D), and co-host of the event, noted how “young politicians represent the fabric of our societies and the future of Europe. However, too often their voices have been neglected, and still are. Despite an ageing political environment, we need to hear them carefully and thoroughly. As we aim to change the European rules (i.e. Treaties) for a better and more powerful Europe of tomorrow, we would need to put forward young leaders’ ideas right now.” The gathering will give the floor to the young elected leaders themselves, facilitating them to have their voices heard while also allowing two levels of politics to meet and discuss the pressing issues of the day. “We need better representation of the younger generations across Europe. The younger you are, the longer you have to live with the political decisions being taken, and of course we need to have a say in what local, regional, national, and European societies we want to build and live in,“ stressed Green MEP Kira Marie Peter-Hansen from Denmark. Continuing, the 24-year-old Danish legislator states, “as the youngest MEP ever elected, I understand how difficult it can be to try and change the ways of those who came before me. And I think we can learn a lot from each other across the EU. I am therefore delighted to be part of this effort to bring together young elected politicians in Brussels for this event”. On the first day, the main opening conference will take place at the European Committee of the Regions, during which assembled panels consisting of several MEPs will engage with the young elected leaders. Echoing her colleagues’ sentiments, French MEP and event co-host Marie-Pierre Vedrenne stated, “as a young elected MEP who is new in politics, I know how important it is to build personal relationships with other young elected leaders. It is crucial for us to better understand our different political cultures, to overcome our differences, and finally, to take the best decisions together for our common future. Encouraging youth participation, building bridges between pro-European parties, and reinforcing citizen knowledge of how the EU functions, are key to making the EU more democratic, more accessible, and more fit for the challenges of the future. This first conference effort has been a success and I hope it can be repeated in time.” The initiative, which was largely inspired by the Conference on the Future of Europe, and the European Commission instigated‘European Year of Youth 2022,’ will adopt the theme‘citizen participation,’ especially as it relates to ‘youth engagement,’ and how this can foster a sense of democratisation, inspiration, and hope for our future. Emphasising the necessity for European collaboration, Mr. Vasco Alves Cordeiro, First Vice-President of the European Committee of the Regions, noted how “building these exchanges among young politicians across different political levels is key for the future of our Union. Learning from each other and developing new ideas together will help deliver better quality results for our people, both at the local and EU level. I look forward to strengthening our cooperation between the European Committee of the Regions and EU40 to support youth engagement and participation in our regions and cities.” And lastly, bringing to the fore the importance of local and regional European cooperation, President of the ELL group and member of the Young Elected Politicians programme, Nektarios Kalantzis, notes how, “cities have the potential to play a major role in dealing with many of the critical issues faced in Europe today, by becoming key drivers of the twin green and digital transformations. The exchange of good practices between European regions and municipalities is more important today, as technology allows the faster development of innovative practices and applications from one European city to another. Europe’s young leaders should thus become stakeholders in changing Europe, knowing that the young generations of today will be the future leaders of tomorrow.”

The European Young Leaders represent an alternative infrastructure of leadership, a new generation of leaders able to inspire action and generate change. Their passion, their diversity of backgrounds and opinions, and their innovative thinking together create the right formula for generating fresh ideas to build a more forward-thinking Europe.

Our European leaders provide alternative perspectives from outside the institutional and political frameworks to EU decisionmakers writing the rule book.

The European Young Leaders also play the essential role of helping to reconnect people with and rebuild trust in politics by engaging a wider community around key EU policy issues that need a whole economy whole society approach to progress fast. They are scientists, artists, journalists, entrepreneurs, astronomers. They are citizens and their thinking is not bound by multilateral or frameworks, or burocracy.

They help take Europe out of Brussels, in their own countries and cities. They are facilitating citizens’ participation in the creation of a more equal, innovative and inclusive Europe and help build a European identity.

From champions of the arts and tech entrepreneurs, to leading activists and Olympic athletes, meet the new young leaders.

Nektarios is a Greek politician with a passion for good local governance. He currently serves as the President of the European Local Leaders, a committee of young European politicians that have been elected at the regional or local level. The initiative aims to promote creativity and share pioneering ideas among the new generation of locally elected officials throughout cities across Europe, with a focus on climate change, environmental protection, smart cities and new technologies. Nektarios is also the President of the Union of Young Local Councillors of Greece, which brings together newly elected regional and municipal councillors, governors, deputy mayors and mayors in Greece and organises events on the role of local governments in the development of smarter and greener cities.

“The strongest weapon of the European Union remains democracy, founded on basic principles and values including respect to the rule of law, freedom and solidarity.” Olgierd Geblewicz, President of the EPP Group in the European Committee of the Regions (EPP-CoR) made these remarks when addressing an EPP Local Dialogue with young local and regional elected representatives (YEPs) ahead of the Summit of Regions and Cities (2-4 March 2022) taking place in Marseille.

 Geblewicz, who is President of West Pomerania Region told YEPs that he got engaged in politics because as a young person he wanted to bring about change. “Looking back I see that important results have been achieved and I encourage you to get engaged and bring about change in your local communities”.

Apostolos Tzitzikostas, President of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) told youths “Your generation, the young generation, has lived in a Union without wars and without walls. You are a generation that knows Europe as it is, but you must be eager to forge our Union as it should be: A Union which is less bureaucratic that focuses on the real needs of its citizens, with decisions taken as close as possible to the people and the places they live in. A resilient Europe forged with our values: Democracy, unity, solidarity, subsidiarity, rule of law.”

Strengthening European Democracy through youth engagement

Jelena Drenjanin, EPP-CoR 1st Vice-President who moderated the first panel said “The European Year for Youth is just a starting point. It’s an occasion that we cannot miss to foster civic engagement of young people in a broader way, leading to a change in the mind-set: young people are not only the future. They are first and foremost the present, and the moment has come to politics to respond to their calls.”

Rafał Trzaskowski, Mayor of Warsaw said “The people of Ukraine are not only fighting for their security but they are also fighting for our democracy. This is why I encourage young politicians to get engaged and show solidarity.”

MEP Antonio López-Istúriz White, EPP Secretary General said that the concept of democracy has perhaps never been more important. “In this dark moment of our history, rights and freedoms are being restricted, war has been provoked on our continent and people are being used as pawns in the name of democracy.” He added that the future of Europe depends on how young people see and how close they feel towards the European Union.

Miroslav Behúl, Municipal Councillor of Bratislava-Petržalka (Slovakia) who co-created the Youth parliament of Bratislava-Petržalka which serves as an advisory and initiative body of the local council and mayor said “It is important to create possibilities for young people to engage in public affairs, such as youth parliaments and school councils. Such engagement of young people is the most effective way to deliver the experiences to young people and to strengthen European democracy.”

Francine Farrugia, Local Councillor of Siggiewi (Malta) expressed disappointment that the local level was experiencing centralization by the national government. “It is key to give local councils and young councillors room to work as the local level is the first voice of local communities and this leaves and impact on trust in politics.”

Sophia Kircher, Vice-President of the Tyrolean Parliament (Austria) said “The decisions we are making today do have a long-lasting impact on the future of the next generations and today’s youth. That is why it is necessary and important that young people are involved in the decision-making processes. This is the only way how generational equity in politics can work. Therefore, it is important and to establish youth councils in which young people can participate and work together on future projects, such as the EU-Strategy for the Alpine Region (EUSALP) Youth Council.”

Young local and regional politicians leading green and digital transformation on the ground

Ricardo Rio, Mayor of Braga who moderated the second panel said that making digitalisation work for everyone, and investing in green and sustainable projects means making citizens lives easier, and healthier as well as supporting small and medium businesses – the backbone of local economy and employment – by simplifying rules and reducing administrative burdens. Rio who served as the CoR Rapporteur on the SDGs said “Unfortunately, we can still see a widespread divide between rural and urban areas in terms of coverage of digital infrastructures, and the digitalisation of the interaction between public authorities and business is still insufficient.”

Martin Heinen, Chairman of the Garzweiler Landfolge (Germany) who is involved in restructuring the energy industry in a coal mining area said “A breakthrough into the future does not require two or three major projects, but the right form of ongoing dialogue between the authorities and the population. This is how progressive projects can be implemented at the right time and in the right place.”

Micael Lamego dos Santos, Municipal Councillor of Tabuaço (Portugal) who is involved in projects to reduce municipal waste “Young politicians are key to a successful transition to a clean and circular economy. Our dynamism and creativity must be to boost all environmental projects. We have to be capable to mix our proactive approach with the voice of experienced politicians and citizens.

Nektarios Kalantzis, Municipal Councillor of Pallini Municipality (Greece), President of the European Local Leaders said that the exchange of good practices between European regions and municipalities is more important today, as technology allows faster development of innovative practices and applications from one European city to another. “Europe’s young leaders should become stakeholders in changing Europe, in order to make our cities modern and innovative. Climate change, smart cities, artificial intelligence, should be the priority of the new generation of elected officials in Europe’s cities.”

Lídia Pereira, President of YEPP and MEP said “The green and digital transitions will bring many new opportunities. Young people must be the protagonists and also the main beneficiaries of this change we have ahead of us. Reconciling environmental sustainability and economic growth is possible and will create better jobs.”

Addressing the event was also Franck Proust, EPP Vice-President and President of Nîmes Métropole said that experience and the voice of youths are complimentary. He said “I have a message for YEPs. Do not be afraid, get engage, believe in yourselves, work together and with people who have experience and other youths to build the future of Europe and strengthen European democracy.”

In the concluding remarks, MEP Maria Walsh, said that the European Year of Youth 2022 is a year that honours and supports the generations that has sacrificed the most during the pandemic. The Youth of Europe. She stressed “This EU year ensures that we focus on giving a strong voice to our young people, when it comes to shaping policies. In the coming year it is essential that we listen, engage and collaborate with our young Europeans. It is simply not good enough if we transition from this pandemic and not have young voices at the decision making table.”

The event was presented by Chris Burns.