Voices of the Next Generation

From Prague to Brussels: Our Voice Matters

In April 2024, the first youth exchange of Voices of the Next Generation: Future Decision-Makers on European Values and Citizenship took place in the Czech Republic. This Erasmus+ KA3 project will launch a series of youth exchanges in 2024 and 2025, followed by a final conference. Organised by the Czech partner organisation Cesta rozvoje, the inaugural youth exchange gathered 30 participants from across Europe, also sent by the other partner organisations: European Youth Press (Germany), Associazione Eufemia (Italy), Asociatum Aum (Romania), Ilewasi (Spain), and Noored Ühiskonna Heaks (Estonia). Abida Khan, the group leader of the European Youth Press delegation, recounts her experience from the 10-days youth exchange for Orange Magazine.

On a cold April evening, a small group of youngsters arrived at a small residence close to Blansko in the Czech Republic. At that time, none of us knew that the next few days would become a lifetime experience of learning and fun intertwined in a perfect balance. We arrived from six different countries across Europe, representing its present and its future – people who could become the voices of the next generation.

The first day was focused on learning about each other and building a team. Every workshop began with an energizer — much-needed by people like me (who are not used to waking up at 8 am). The two energizers on the first day were organized by the Spanish and Estonian teams, and they fit perfectly with the theme of the day — getting to know each other and the unique cultures we represent. At the end of the day, we did the same but informally with snacks, music, dances, and hand-gestures from Italy and the Czech Republic. It was exciting to learn how we came from diverse and multilingual backgrounds, and that even first-generation migrants were now representing Europe as their home.

The second day was about expression. We started the first workshop with debates ranging from the voting age to life in Europe. This was the first time we saw the knowledge that each of us brought, and that despite disagreements we knew how to respect different opinions. After an intense round of debates, we moved on to learning how to express ourselves and our problems through humor — memes! The results were as fun as they were enlightening. After all, memes are the language of our generation. Since we learned how to raise awareness on conflicts surrounding us, we also had to learn how to resolve some of those conflicts. The next workshop was about conflict resolution but with theater performances. We were divided into multiple teams, each addressing a political, cultural, economic, or social conflict. At the end of the workshop, each team put up a play with creative solutions to the many conflicts that affect Europe. In the evening, we got together for another informal intercultural evening from Spain and Estonia with lots of jamon and chocolates.

Photo by Francesca Ticca

The morning of day three was focused on the European Parliament: How does the European Parliament function? What are its roles and responsibilities? How do the EU elections work? What are the main parties? These were some of the many questions that we attempted to answer. Once again, we worked in teams, with each team presenting a different aspect of the EU Parliament. But presentations are not enough when it comes to really understanding how the EU Parliament works. We had to embody the different parties and simulate a plenary session to become a tinier version of the EU Parliament. Here began one of the most interesting workshops: We divided ourselves into teams based on animals, like the “Christian Democrat dragons”, the “Socialist monkeys” (my team), “Green capybaras”, “Liberal donkeys” and “Radical (or fascist) flamingos”. Each team embodied the ideologies of the real EU parties, and we presented our campaigns to each other addressing our stance on political and social issues troubling the EU, conflict-resolution, environmental policies, and foreign affairs.

The next few hours turned into intense debates and discussions as we started looking at the larger issue of human rights for our final policy proposal to the EU. We chose to address different political and social aspects involving human rights and formed committees on international relations, gender and equality, health, environment, and digital rights. Every party chose a representative that joined different committees, and the task of the representative was to forward their party’s stance on the given issue. Take the example of international relations: the green capybaras and radical flamingos wanted the EU to take the lead in climate policies across the globe, while the “Socialist monkeys” wanted equal rights and treatment of migrants. The discussions and draft proposals continued on to Day four when we held a mock plenary session. The “liberals”, “greens”, and “Christian democrats” formed the majority with an alliance and chose the main speaker and a vice-speaker, while the opposition parties — the radicals and socialists — chose the third vice-speaker. The speakers moderated the plenary session which went on for three hours, with each committee presenting its proposals followed by questions, amendments, and votes on approving or rejecting the said proposal. For example, a proposed 50% quota for women members in Parliament was rejected as several parties thought that it did not adequately represent other genders. Another proposal for equal pay for women was accepted unanimously. Three hours later, we had our very first policy proposal created by the youth of the EU for the future of the EU.

Photo by Francesca Ticca

The pressure and intensity of days three and four were visible on our faces on day five. So we took the day off for lighter activities and prepared for our journey to Brussels. We took cultural trips to nearby caves, learned about the youth pass ceremony, and had one last intercultural evening. The next morning, straight after breakfast, we were on our way to Prague and then on to the night-train to Brussels. Traveling together bonded us on a different level than the last few days: Now we were each other’s guardians, we made sure that each of us felt comfortable, had enough food, and did not get lost in the big-city rush. It was almost hard to believe that we were just a bunch of young people on a train, but rather mature, caring human beings conscious and responsible for their surroundings. But of course, we were also just a bunch of young people traveling together: we stayed up to play games and watch the sunrise in Amsterdam.

After 24 hours of traveling, we reached Brussels, had a quick breakfast, and rushed to our appointment at the Parliament museum. Despite the exhaustion, we made the best of the visit and prepared for the following day’s visit to the European Commission. This was the moment we were all looking forward to.

As we entered the building with our visitor cards, a sudden surge of excitement and awe overtook all of us. We were then introduced to the EC Blue Book traineeship program meant for young people like us and the life in Brussels working for the EC. The next presentation was about the numerous programs launched targeting youth across Europe. These programs include the Discover EU project that gives free train passes for youth to discover the EU and meet new people across cultures. There is also a citizens forum where young people can voice their concerns and also sit down with an MEP to discuss solutions. We wondered why many of us never heard about it before, and sadly, it’s the filter bubbles that kept these amazing projects from being more popular. So we made it our mission to spread the word the minute we get back to our home countries.

Young people are the future and the top institutions of the EU are aware of this. Our vote and involvement in EU politics matter, and the unique perspectives and solutions that we, as young people, bring to the forefront are the need of the hour. This was our ultimate takeaway from the 10 intense and exhilarating days of the first edition of the Voices of the Next Generation project.

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