To contribute to the European Year of Youth, the PES Group held its extraordinary group meeting in Florence on Friday 4 November 2022 to discuss a progressive vision for the future of young people in Europe.
This event proved to be an excellent opportunity for an exchange on the state of play of youth participation in Europe under a progressive lens. It was also an opportunity for local and regional progressive leaders to showcase inspiring local and regional youth projects such as those in Vienna, Strasbourg and Charleroi – which have made concrete improvements to the lives of the young people they represent.
Defining solutions for the future must be done by engaging more with citizens, especially with young people. An inclusive method of engagement, rooted in the values of our political family such as solidarity, equality and human rights is the starting point that can deliver a better tomorrow for all.
It is now more important than ever to empower young people and build the future of Europe together with and for them. As Socialists and Social Democrats in Europe, we call for a youth mainstreaming to be brought into all relevant Union policies. Progressives put forward the right policies that respond to the demands and expectations of young people: a cleaner environment, decent and affordable housing, quality education and universal healthcare, as well as job opportunities.
PES Group member Eugenio Giani, President of the Region of Tuscany, introduced the conference by underlining that : "in times of great uncertainty, and recovery from the pandemic, we can only emerge stronger together if we provide young people with the best opportunities. And we need to give them trust – not only in the future, but in the now. The Tuscany region is trying to champion this vision with flagship projects like GiovaniSì and is ready to learn from other European experiences, too."
PES member Dario Nardella, Mayor of Florence, made a strong opening speech defending the left as a political project and bringing forward a new vision for Socialists in Europe and for the Italian Democratic Party. "We must convey a message that holds Europe and the cities together. It is the only way to defeat nationalism in Europe. If we talk about a Europe well-rooted in our territories, plural and strong, we will succeed in doing something good for our young people and also for the left."
Dialogue on the Future of the EU
“This (just green) transition can be a beautiful political adventure for young people. Everything has to be changed and this requires an incredible amount of imagination.” Paul Magnette, Mayor of Charleroi and President of PS Belgium
The discussion on the future of the EU was moderated by Laura Sparavigna, President of the Commission on Employment of the City of Florence. She shared her experience of the Young Elected Politician (YEP) programme in the CoR: “The YEP programme is a great initiative that allowed many of us to grow, create a network and exchange best practices. We should further support it and also promote it to make sure we reach more people.”
Vasco Alves Cordeiro, President of the European Committee of the Regions highlighted that young people took an active part in the Conference of the Future of Europe. Their demands were clear: more dialogue, more participation based on a partnership principle. “This is what we do at the CoR: ensuring the participation of young people, enhancing a permanent dialogue with citizens and strengthening the partnership with all regions and cities”, he emphasised.
Kalypso Nicolaïdis, Chair in Global Affairs at the School of Transnational Governance, European University Institute, focused on the follow-up of the Conference of the Future of Europe and how local leaders can bring its outcomes to the next stage. She mentioned that Europe is entering a “third phase of democratic change” in which citizens have and want more power. She warned that the sources of resistance are strong in Europe: traditionalists (who believe only in representative democracy), populists (atomised citizens), and lobbies.
Paul Magnette, Mayor of Charleroi and President of the Socialist Party in Belgium, called for a rethinking of our society. “Since 2020, with the pandemic, and the Ukraine and energy crises, lots of doors have been opened at EU level, including the suspension of the Stability and Growth Pact and the new tax on profit in the energy sectors: all these new mechanisms opened in the last year as answers to the crises can be also closed very quickly by liberals and conservatives. We have to put our feet in and make sure those doors remain open. We need to build a new European compact. These must become structural policies. For this we need European socialists, our family, to demonstrate that we are the only political force which has a vision for the transition and knows how to pay for it”, he stressed.
#UpToYouth campaign – Progressives take action
“We want action on young people’s priorities: climate change, tackling youth unemployment, access to quality education, healthcare for all, and decent housing.”, by Ana Pirtskhalava
PES member Yonnec Polet, Deputy Secretary of the Party of European Socialists (PES), Mayor of Berchem-Sainte-Agathe and Ana Pirtskhalava, Secretary-General of the Young European Socialists (YES) introduced the #UpToYouth campaign, led by the PES and YES, which puts young people’s issues such as access to education, healthcare and decent housing at the top of the EU agenda.
A Europe that works for YOU(th) – a showcase of local and regional youth programmes
“Young people are not the future, but the present and we need to strengthen their political participation at all levels, from our cities to the European Parliament.”, by Brando Benifei
This panel was moderated by Bernard Dika, advisor of the Region Tuscany on youth policies and innovation and former President of the Regional Youth Parliament, who introduced the conversation with the example of GiovaniSì, a project of youth employment in Tuscany, which aims at empowering young people in learning and training processes, leading to job opportunities, financed by European funds.
Brando Benifei, Head of the Italian delegation and Member of the S&D Group in the European Parliament, Rapporteur on the Youth and Child Guarantee, highlighted the ongoing youth policy work at the European Parliament; the Youth Guarantee, the Child Guarantee, the European Solidarity Corps (volunteering and mobility scheme), and Erasmus +. Progressives are leading the way when it comes to these policies
Pia Maria Wieninger, Member of the Vienna State Parliament and Municipal Council explained how Vienna was leading the way with youth participation projects. For the first time in its history, the city has reserved a participatory youth budget of 1 million euro for projects designed by young people, for young people.
PES Group member Luca Menesini, President of the Province of Lucca, Mayor of Capannori, explained how his region is increasingly investing in youth participation. The Province of Lucca is involving young people in the process of school buildings requalification and modernisation, with the funds of the EU Recovery Plan. His region also launched a project called "Nice to Meet EU" to allow young students to meet with young professionals in EU institutions from their territory and therefore, understand better the functioning and policies through the voices of young people working there. He believes that such projects bridge the gap between young people and the EU and bring a sense of European citizenship.
Céline Geissmann, City and Metropolitan Councillor of Strasbourg, agreed on the need to set up youth participation councils but she underlined that in order to be successful, suggestions brought up by young people must be considered as mandatory and followed-up with implementation. She stressed the danger of the far-right parties in France, who are attracting many young people. "As socialists we need to show that we are a real alternative for change for the youth and that we listen to what they have to say", she said.
Christine Jung, Saarbrücken City Councillor, raised that every legislation has to be checked by young people, who know best how to represent their interests. Every aspect of society affects them: climate change, unemployment, mobility, health, and education. “It's a threat to democracy if you don’t involve young people from an early age. Young people might get involved in some radical parties to be heard.”
Closing remarks by our President Christophe Rouillon
“It is now more important than ever to empower young people and build the future of Europe together.” by Christophe Rouillon, President of the PES Group in the CoR and Mayor of Coulaines, France
"Socialists and democrats at the local and regional level bring an inclusive and progressive vision for the youth", concluded Christophe Rouillon.