The first six months of EFIL’s member at the Advisory Council on Youth

By Charlotte Klinting, EFIL’s representative to the Advisory Council on Youth and member of the EFIL Pool or Representatives

In the spring of 2015 I stood for elections on behalf of EFIL to be given a mandate to the Advisory Council on Youth to the Council of Europe, or “AC”. Not until almost a year later did the task actually commence, first with an induction training and then our first statutory meeting in March 2016. I won’t deny that I had only a small idea of what the work entailed. This is a small update on how the first six months have gone.

What is it and how do we fit in?

“Advisory Council on Youth to the Council of Europe” – the full name is a bit of a mouthful, but it is quite straightforward. The AC is a group of 30 young people representing National Youth Councils, International youth NGOs and other civil society organisations, who have a mandate to advise the Council of Europe on a variety of policies and activities. Essentially making sure that young people are included and prioritised at all levels. Simple, right? This is done by being present in platforms, working groups, events, and contributing to policy documents and debates.

Our government counterparts is a council of representatives from youth departments of Council of Europe’s Member states, and when they come together with the AC, we form the “Joint Council on Youth”, where both sides have equal say, according to the principle of “co-management”.

The AC works along three priorities: 1 – democracy, human rights and participation; 2- autonomy of young people and access to rights, and 3- building inclusive and peaceful societies. And, naturally, EFIL’s niche fits neatly within the 3rd priority, where topics such as countering extremism; No Hate Speech Movement; and Roma Youth Action plan sit, among others. Therefore, when it came to dividing areas of responsibility, I did my best to make sure we were represented there, and was given the portfolios of Intercultural and Interfaith Dialogue, and as an addition, I am the point person on the cooperation between the CoE and the EU through the Youth Partnership.

What are we doing?

The first meetings of this AC were dominated by finding our feet, holding elections, sharing out responsibilities and deciding on how to work together. So what has happened since we actually began working?

The two key events for me under the heading of Intercultural Learning  were the Youth Peace Camp and the Refugee Seminar, taking place simultaneously in Strasbourg on 10-18 July July. The Youth Peace Camp brings together young people from conflict affected regions, aiming to engage them in dialogue and relies on conflict transformation activities based on human rights education and Intercultural Learning. With any of the groups attending, both sides of a conflict would be represented, and central to this camp was the follow-up activities that the participants planned within their regions, across two sides of a conflict.  This year the Camp involved participants from the South Caucasus region, the Russian Federation, Ukraine (Luhansk, Donetsk and border regions), as well as from Kosovo.

When I was invited, I emphasised that I was not going to do this “politician style” and arrive just in time for the closing, give a generic speech and take off. Instead, I asked to join the final days of the programme to get to know the group a bit better and understand the journey they went through. The vibe of the event was incredibly inspiring, and I am now trying to keep on top of what they are doing with their follow-up activities, hoping it will give them some motivation to know they can ask for support. This event was incredibly relevant and important, not only to the people attending, but for the intended multiplier effect in their regions

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The camp coincided with the seminar on social inclusion of refugee students in Europe, allowing me to attend both. And this brought a whole new dimension to the word “inspiration”. As a way for the Council of Europe’s youth department to contribute to the topic of refugees, the seminar brought together a few organisations working on refugees and diaspora, as well as refugee students who have come to Europe within the last few years. The goal was to identify ways to advocate for their rights and support their social integration through youth work and youth policy projects based on participation and citizenship. The main outcome was a document with their own recommendations and principles, representing wishes for their life in Europe. This is going to be a key resource for the AC, as we are going to have a thematic debate in October on this topic within the Joint Council on Youth.

Other activities for me have included the meeting of the Steering Group of the European Platform for Learning Mobility and a preparatory meeting for a seminar focusing on cross-sector youth policy in the Western Balkans. The next statutory meeting of the AC and Joint Council is taking place on the 17-19th of October.

A few reflections

It can sometimes be difficult to see how it makes a difference to attend meetings and give speeches, but luckily there is a lot of energy in the work of the AC and the groups we work with. I do believe it is important that we are present and repeat the same messages until inclusion of youth becomes mainstream and is talked with and not about. However, the issues facing young people won’t be solved quickly, and yet, it seems we are expected to produce results within a very short amount of time. One issue with the AC is that a two-year mandate is far too short. Elections for the next mandate are half-way through the current one, which means we have barely started before we must try to be re-elected. One thing is sure, though: EFIL definitely has a role to play in this platform and so far, it has been a busy mandate!

For more information: elisa.briga@afs.org