“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.