Making impact in the Council of Europe CongressSaturday 22 October 18:03
At the Council of Europe Congress’ 30th and 31st session, local and regional representatives from all over the European continent discussed common problems and worked together to solve them. Many members have great experience and have been serving their societies for decades. We as youth delegates were invited to shake up the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities and to participate on behalf of young people all across Europe. I focused on outreach to young people, monitoring youth participation and access to youth rights.
Outreach to young people
The Congress writes and talks way too difficult for ordinary (young) people. In the 30th session in March 2016, I advised the Congress to ‘keep the door open and keep it simple’ (Speaker #75). Apparently, councilors have not thought of that before, because the quote became part of the discourse of following debates. The best way to alienate people is to invite them in town hall to discuss a 50 page policy paper in professional language on which they can have no real impact. If you invite young people to truly listen to what impacts their lives and how to improve them, they will come!
In the 31st session which was organized this week, I followed up by emphasizing the importance of accessible language. In the debate on Social Rights in Europe: implementation of the European Social Charter (ESC), I stressed that young people need to be informed on their rights in a way they understand (See 2:31:37). Young people are having a greater risk of poverty and social exclusion. Even if they knew there is a ESC, it would be too complicated to use it. If public authorities want to keep the connection, they need to educate youth on how to access their rights and how to seek redemption when these are not respected in a language they understand.
And lastly, in the reflection session on the youth delegate program, I outlined that we need to be involved in all phases of policy making. The Congress does a great job on youth participation. It invited us to join the Congress itself and we could either participate in all debates on current topics, or make proposals of what we think that the Congress should work on. To become the very best, the Congress should work on involving youth in the drafting processes of relevant dossiers and include young people’s needs in their monitoring missions.
Monitoring Youth Participation
Making use of the powers we had, we stressed the importance of monitoring youth participation. Examining the reports on Local Democracy in France and the Slovak Republic, we found that youth participation was absent. This is in great contrast to the vision of the Congress that young people must have access to all forms of participation in society and their work in reaffirming and promoting the role of young people in the development of a democratic society.
To encourage the Congress to include youth participation in the monitoring missions, I initiated a proposal to consider connecting the Revised Charter on the Participation of Young People in Local and Regional Life in the European Charter of Local Self-Government. As two options to achieve this proper monitoring, we proposed to include youth participation within the Additional Protocol on the right to participate in the affairs of a local authority, or to initiate a new protocol on the monitoring of the Revised Charter.
The proposal was acknowledged by the Congress president at the end of the 30th session and discussed in the presidium. They decided to forward it to the monitoring commission, where our proposal is now. Under the newly elected leadership, the exploration of how to include youth participation within the mandate of the monitoring missions can continue. As I am at the end of my mandate, my hopes are with the new generation of youth delegates to follow up.
Young People’s Access to Rights
In the 30th session of the Congress, we were granted a speech in reflection upon the integration of refugees in Europe. Collecting the input from the greater group, three colleagues and I wrote a speech to address the vulnerable position of young refugees in our local communities. In this speech, we stressed that local and regional authorities have a responsibility to ensure the rights of young refugees, and that we call upon them to take it. I added the positive note that people are taking initiative themselves and that these initiatives need recognition (Speaker #39).
In the 31st session, being better prepared, we wanted to seize the momentum that was granted us by the Committee of Ministers’ adoption of the Recommendation Young People’s Access to Rights. After collecting input from the group as a whole, we wanted to create something that would both make an impact in the lives of young people, as to create something that would pass in the Congress and would gain the support of local and regional authorities. Those two are often conflicting wishes, and we searched for a possibility to achieve the both.
Hence, the Congress’ Toolkit on for local authorities on organising intercultural and interreligious activities inspired me to propose a similar toolkit for youth rights. With support of my colleagues, we drafted the proposal for the Resolution on preparing a Toolkit for Local Authorities to Empower Young People to Access Their Rights. This toolkit shares best practices in ensuring young people’s access to their rights, outlines principles for successful empowerment of young people and collects all relevant document in a concise and coherent manner. I was able to promote the proposal (Speaker #8) and the reactions received were very positively, and we have the hope that local authorities from Iceland to Azerbaijan will be helped in their endeavors to empower young people.
End of a beginning
This weekend, our adventure is over, but this is not the end. I want to thank the Congress for this privilege, our trainers for their excellent support, the Dutch delegation for including me like a peer and most of all, my colleague youth delegates for making this adventure truly awesome! The next generation can work upon what we have started. With our proposals on monitoring youth participation and our proposal for the resolution for a youth rights toolkit for local authorities on the table, they will have a great start. They can count on my support if they need help in ensuring the promotion of youth participation with in the Council of Europe Congress of Local and Regional Authorities and I wish them all the best!