EU Youth Conference discusses the future of Europe

Maribor – Some 200 representatives of young policy-makers and youth experts from all EU countries are discussing the post-Covid future of Europe at the four-day virtual EU Youth Conference, which got under way in Maribor on Monday.

The conference, held by Slovenia’s Office for Youth in cooperation with the National Youth Council, is the largest youth event of Slovenia’s EU presidency, according to the Education Ministry.

The aim of the conference is to assess the entire process of cycle 8 of the EU Youth Dialogue and finalise recommendations for the EU and member states to ensure participation and space for everyone, thus implementing the ninth European Youth Goal.

The conclusions of the conference will help draw up a relevant resolution by the Council of the EU which will be adopted by ministers in charge of youth issues in November.

The head of the National Youth Council Miha Zupančič stressed the importance of the ninth goal today, warning about the potential fragility of some fundamental democratic values.

“The fight against the pandemic has also led to people being deprived of their right to assembly and peaceful expression of their opinions. That is why the Space and Participation for All goal is even more important today than ever before,” he said in his opening address.

He sees the conference as a platform to let young people know how important their participation is in tackling issues.

“But it is also important that we insist decision-makers allow us to participate in decision-making processes,” he added.

Education Minister Simona Kustec said Slovenia considered youth participation an extremely important issue. “That is why Slovenia has picked civic spaces for young people as the main priority of its EU presidency in the field of youth issues,” she said.

The minister believes such spaces should be opened on all levels. She looks forward to Wednesday when youths will have an opportunity to converse with decision-makers on local, regional, national and European levels.

The head of the European Youth Forum Silja Markkula told the conference that there were fewer and fewer spaces in Europe for the young and youth organisations. “We have to find ways to change that,” she urged.

Markkula also warned that a survey conducted last year established that two out of five youth organisations feared actions by the authorities due to expressions of their views and almost a half of the respondents said they did not feel free from government influence.

The conference features, among others, a debate about lessons in youth participation that could be learned in the wake of the pandemic and what are the future trends when it comes to such participation, as well as a discussion dubbed Let’s Talk about Europe, which will be attended by Slovenian President Borut Pahor and his Latvian counterpart Egils Levits, who arrives in Slovenia on Tuesday for a two-day official visit.