European Youth Conference on Democracy and Human Rights
Foto: Deutscher Bundestag/Stella von Saldern
A total of 65 youth representatives from more than 25 member and observer states of the Council of Europe participated in the Youth Conference from 30.11. to 2.12.2022. The focus was on the cooperation of the national youth councils with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). Frank Schwabe, member of the German parliament and head of the German PACE delegation, had invited to this cooperation, following an impulse of the Bundesjugendring.
Marius Schlageter, board member of the Bundesjugendring, says: "European problems cannot be solved within the EU alone. A youth conference with participants from Ukraine, Belarus, Turkey, Northern Macedonia, Serbia, Iceland, Great Britain and Israel, among others, shows: When it comes to pressing issues such as upholding human rights and strengthening democracy, we need the cooperation of young people from across the continent."
In her opening statement, Bundestag Vice President Aydan Özoğuz praised the conference as an encouraging example in times of crisis and stressed the importance of young people's commitment to democracy and human rights in Europe. Antje Rothemund, Head of the Youth Section of the Council of Europe, clarified in her input that the unique work of the Council of Europe's Youth Section needs to be strengthened. An important contribution for this strengthening was made by Germany with the increased contribution of the Bundestag to the Youth Department of the Council of Europe, for which an extra million euros was made available in the budget. The Bundesjugendring had lobbied for this increase.
In the discussion with the rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Anastasios Chatzivasileiou, the participants of the youth conference described the different needs of the national youth councils. They called for an effective participation of youth representatives in the work of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
The political exchange was continued in a panel discussion with members of the Bundestag from all parliamentary groups who are members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. It became clear that the MPs are interested in the cooperation with the national youth councils. They appreciate the commitment to the work of the Council of Europe. At the same time, there is a need to learn more about the structures in the youth field in order to be able to specifically address the challenges of individual organizations.
Özge Erdoğan, board member of the Bundesjugendring, emphasizes: "Young people across the continent place their hopes in the Council of Europe as the guardian of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe. The exchange at the youth conference has shown that more joint efforts are needed. The national youth councils are ready to intensify cooperation."
In the workshops of the youth conference, the youth representatives dealt with the topics of war and military conflicts, the restriction of civil society action by governments, and health crises. The jointly developed demands were presented in a final document to the members of the Parliamentary Assembly.
Among other things, the conference calls for further strengthening of the Council of Europe's Youth Section as a central instrument for involving young people and their interests, the development of a mechanism for structural institutional communication and cooperation between civil society and the Council of Europe, more resources from Council of Europe member states for peacebuilding and reconciliation work, and strengthening formal and non-formal education to improve Internet and media skills. In addition, the conference demonstrates that young people need the Council of Europe, but the Council of Europe also needs the young generation.
Raoul Taschinski, board member of the Bundesjugendring, says: "Despite the challenges caused by the current crisis, young people in Europe have clear ideas about how democracy and human rights can be strengthened in Europe. With this youth conference, they have made a decisive contribution to this and formulated concrete demands. Now it is up to politicians to implement them."
The results of the conference are now to be worked on further. Iceland took over the presidency of the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers in November 2022 and will host the Council of Europe's fourth summit in Reykjavik in 2023. The goal is for young people's voices to be heard at this conference and for the results of the Berlin Youth Conference to be incorporated into the political process. The First Secretary of the Icelandic Embassy, Áugúst Már Áugústsson, assured the participants of the Youth Conference that he will work for participation opportunities for young people at the upcoming summit.