Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Let me represent you

Hyvinkää is not such a bad place after all. I just returned from the Young Active Citizenships Conference which was part of the official programme of the Finnish EU presidency. I was asked to facilitate a youth training and present theoneminutesjr programme.

The venue – Rantasipi hotel in th
e middle of a forest - was brilliant. I find it a bold and correct move to organise a meeting such as this (bringing together youth organisations, policy makers and administrators) far away from the centre of Helsinki. This decision can be praised for two reasons:

1. A small city such as Hyvinkää is so proud of having an EU meeting. The locals were totally amazed by the exotic foreigners in the bars.

2. People stick together and do not get separated.

There was a lot of frustration in the air during the meeting. Several youth representatives felt that they were being patronised and that the goals of the meeting were not clear. At the same time some of the people coming from local and national level experienced a certain level of resentment towards the people from the European youth lobby organisations and with their carefully thought agendas. I saw some youth delegates raising their eyebrows when a youth lobbyist was all excited about structured dialogue with the Commission. This setting posed the risk that all youth participants would have left the meeting with some frustration – although for completely opposite reasons.

The question of youth representation is always problematic. At the same time I recognise the need for European youth platforms but I also find it artificial to think that the chair of a European platform organisation could play the role of The Voice Of European Youth. I am not saying that he/she would be doing this. I think it is actually something that several politicians and administrators would often fancy, i.e. having one clear partner to talk to. When they get contradictory messages from the youth delegates, it gets tricky.

In the closing session we discussed the conclusions of this meeting. The topic of the meeting was active citizenships, stressing the need to recognise also the social, cultural and economic citizenships. Due to the composition of youth in the meeting the political citizenship was highly overemphasised. There was a surprisingly strong lobby for more funding for European platforms and action proposals for increasing the voting rates. This is not to blame the people in the meeting but it is only an example of the complexity of listening to youth. Everyone seemed to recognise the need to give more visibility to the idea of several citizenships but when we got into discussion on the actions, more than 90 % of the proposals were about voting and increasing memberships in traditional youth organisations.

One of the key problems in youth representation is the relationship between power and responsibility. A lot of the people in the meeting were calling for more power but at the same time there was no accountability considering the proposals put forward. As one of the facilitators pointed out, there were a lot of complaints by youth representatives that they were not being heard and it was usually the loudest people of the meeting (who got several amendments through) putting this complaint across.

Tricky, ain't it?

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