The ‘Youth and the Future of Europe: Role, Opportunities and Challenges’ event was organised jointly by the NGO Oxygono and the Cyprus network of the Anna Lindh Foundation, with the supported of ONEK. It was hosted online on Friday, 10th of September, at 6pm.
Four speakers took part in the discussion; Ms Alexandra Attalides, Member of the House of Representatives with the Green Party; Ms Maria Miltiadous, Deputy Executive Director of the Youth Board of Cyprus; and Mr Antonis Kourras, President of the Cyprus Youth Council. In addition, Ms Themis Christophidou, Director-General for Education, Youth, Sport, Culture at the European Commission, participated through a pre-recorded video.
The discussion was structured around four main topics: the role of youth in shaping the future of Europe, opportunities for youth in shaping the future of Europe, the challenges of inclusiveness and the challenges of the administration in dealing with youth problems.
The event followed Oxygono’s rules which are based on a structured dialogue. These were aligned to the main topics of discussion and each speaker had 5 minutes to develop a position in each thematic area.
Following the opening remarks from Mr Javier Esteban from the Cyprus Network of the Anna Lindh Foundation, the event began with a pre-recorded video message from Ms Themis Christophidou, who outlined the main challenges facing the youth from a European perspective, as well as, a number of initiates pursuit at the EU-level in addressing these challenges. She referred to the EU Youth Dialogue and the European Solidarity Corps as some of the best youth opportunities for participation at a multinational level.
The discussion between participants began on the topic of how youth in shaping the future of Europe. Ms Miltiadous expanded on the national policies that are currently taking place, and which grant opportunities for the youth in Cyprus. She outlined several opportunities for young people that can be utilised to make their voices heard. Specific reference was made to Erasmus+, the European Solidarity Corps, the EU Youth Dialogue and the EU Youth Conferences. She also mentioned that the participation of the youth in decision making at a national level is a main priority for the Youth Board of Cyprus and a basic principle of the national youth strategy. Nevertheless, Ms Miltiadou signalled that there is still space for improvement and that everyone should commit to using consultations with the youth for all decision-making processes.
A counter-argument was offered by Ms Attalides, when referring to the youth’s participation in democratic processes in Cyprus. She expanded on her view that, by and large, the youth is neither heard in Cyprus, nor in the European Union, since institutional corridors do not promote the voices of the youth and their opinions cannot be easily integrated in national and European strategies. An additional problem she touched upon was the one of active participation by the youth, namely that the majority of young people in Cyprus refrain from stating their opinion and most of them do not engage in democratic processes, such as participations in elections.
A dialogue between Ms Attalides and Mr Kourras ensued. The latter offered a few examples in favour of the participation argument, stating that the young people in Cyprus are active in the political scene of the island. In his contribution he outlined a few initiatives currently being pursued at the national level and by NGOs in the field.
During the second thematic area, focusing on opportunities given to the youth, Ms Miltiadous mentioned the opportunities created by the wide use of technology. However, she stated that additional ways in which the youth would be able to shape the future are needed. Mr Kourras agreed that this generation has been given more opportunities to participate in democratic processes within the European Union than previous generations, while Ms Attalidou emphasised the fact that the society should be responsible for encouraging young people to participate in democratic processes and express their opinion more openly.
The discussion turned to the challenges facing the youth today. When assessing whether the Cypriot community is inclusive, Mr Kourras answered with an emphatic “no”. He explained that people with disabilities, people belonging to a religious minority and LGBTQIA community, are not granted equal opportunities for participation, compared to the other parts of society. He stated however that equality is something that the Cyprus Youth Council is fighting for. In turn, Ms Miltiadous said that in theory Cyprus is an inclusive society, but in practise things are very different. She identified the limited budget as one of the main constraints in creating an inclusive society with organisations that will ease participation constraints. Finally, Ms Attalides re-emphasised the fact that religious minorities, women, members of the LGBTQIA community and the youth of Cyprus are often not heard by the policy-making community and that more need to be done in this direction. Another issue mentioned by participants is the role of political parties in exacerbating the participation of some parts of the population against other parts.
In the final leg of the
discussion, Ms Miltiadous referred to the challenges that the recent pandemic
created for the youth, but she remained optimistic that the youth will increase
their participation in policy-making processes in the near future. Ms Attalides
stated that the pandemic was a watershed in terms of change, both for the
Cypriot youth and in Europe as a whole. She emphasised the need to promote
policies that tackle climate change, the need for increased funding in for the
mental health issues and called upon the youth to stay active, engaged in the
processes and demand changes from politicians. Lastly, Mr Kourras specified the
need for a resolution to the Cyprus Issue, as a pre-condition for an overall
change in the Cypriot society.