At a time when the global youth population is the largest it has ever been in history, young people continue to be chronically under-represented in the world’s legislatures. Today’s world is home to 1.8bn young people, a huge generation with an unprecedented ability to connect with one another despite the geographic constraints of yesteryear. The way in which these shifting demographics in the world are leveraged is critical for the progress of not only our societies but also for the health of our planet.
Yet when we talk about young people and politics, young people’s supposed disengagement with politics is often brought up. Though this disenchantment may manifest in non-alignment with established political parties, young people do participate in issue-based politics and mass demonstrations outside of formalised politics. During the past decade, the millennial generation has convinced the world that young people do in fact hold considerable potential in the arena of activism and social justice.
In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, over 20% of the population is between the ages of 15 and 29. Representing more than 108mn denizens, this is the largest number of young people in the region’s history. However, despite their relatively prominent role in civil uprisings, this cohort is poorly integrated into the more formal decision-making procedures. As a result, their considerations are not represented in local public governance networks. Moreover, the region has the world’s highest youth unemployment rate and shows a significant lack of opportunities for youth to positively engage with their communities.
In order to give young people from this region the opportunity to learn, engage and get inspired, Friends of Europe, together with the Anna Lindh Foundation, is bringing a selection of the most active young leaders from the area together with established talent from both Europe and MENA. This unique two-day Brussels summit is an opportunity for young people from across the Euro-Mediterranean region to discuss their experiences with influential representatives (aged 40 or under) from politics, business and civil society. These discussions will allow them to voice issues that they view as critical to both their generation and their societies as a whole.
This is an opportunity for young people from the MENA region to be inspired and become even more motivated to engage positively with their communities and for the European and MENA Young Leaders (EYL40) to hear about their experiences. This exchange will enable the latter to critically evaluate the role Europe plays in shaping and influencing their lives. What are the Euro-Mediterranean young generation’s perspectives on power, politics, democracy and the future? How can states benefit from young people’s input? What do they stand to lose or gain?
A moment to welcome the EYL40 and YMV to their first joint seminar and an opportunity for them to meet with their peers.
EYL40 and YMV will have the opportunity to engage with one another in an ice-breaking activity.
Countering political and social polarisation
In an era in which we are facing global issues that demand quick and effective collective action, such as climate change, migration and growing inequalities, both politicians and citizens appear to be distracted and paralysed by polarisation. Trust in the rational and stable middle ground of deliberative party politics is disappearing, with people instead opting for strong emotions, populistic rhetoric and big personalities. Issues related to national identity, cultural values and ethnic origins have been prominent in the political debate worldwide, causing not only political division, but also cultural and social polarisation.
Many governments are unable to respond adequately to the growing social, ethnic and religious conflicts – or oftentimes even foment these tensions. Instead, antagonistic narratives seem to be the only way of conceiving the vote. Societal debate has been hijacked by the more extreme movements that instigate high-tension debates, in which more moderate voices and much needed debates about common concerns such as climate change are losing power and influence.
What is the glue binding us together for the future? How can we convince people of a common purpose, enabling them to be better connected in their needs and concerns? How can we convince people of the notion of a common good? How do we make sure that people ignore what needs to be ignored and keep their eye on the (common) price?
Online activism or slacktivism
From the American youth-led gun-control movement after the Parkland shooting to the European school strikes urging politicians to stop climate change initiated by a 16-years old Swedish girl, social media has undeniably allowed young activists to instigate social change that resonates on a massive scale. Youth activism is distinguished by its online accessibility and potential to reach likeminded people from around the globe. Yet many critics claim these adolescents are only engaged in ‘Facebook activism’, undermining the traditional democratic structures in place. Furthermore, the companies that youth turn to for their political empowerment act simultaneously as their primary source of information.
Although the use of technology and social media can be a major force of change, it also runs the risk of being considered supporting a social cause in a rather shallow, non-factual manner that commands little to no effort. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as Slacktivism. How do we make sure that we unite youth’s social media opinions with political representation? Can we entrust social media companies and the business models behind them to play such a huge part in linking youth and politics?
Over dinner, we envisage an informal discussion between a speaker from the cultural sector and the participants on the topic of art and its role in intercultural exchange.
Ever feel like you want to make a difference in your community but don’t know how? It’s not always easy to find your way in the maze of civic participation constructions and backdoors.
This workshop will provide you with a unique opportunity to learn how to lobby for good and discover the lobby tools available to you to make meaningful changes in society.
Rethinking the global food system: feeding the nine billion
The UN estimates the world population will increase by an additional 2bn people by the mid-21st-century. Assuming a nutritionally adequate diet, this will require an estimated 28% increase in our food supply. Scientists and farmers are eagerly looking for innovative solutions to boost food production to cater for the foreseen 9 billion mouths that we will need to feed.
The global food system of the future has been envisioned by some to one day rely on smart robots, blockchain and the internet of things to manufacture synthetic foods for personalised nutrition. Next–generation biotechnologies are already looking to re-engineer plants, animals and farming. In this sci-fi-esque future, will crops grown on the sides of skyscrapers be pollinated by flying robots? Or will we have to expand our diets to include insects, algae and gene-edited foods?
How can we ensure greater food security for the world’s hungry? Could new technologies help us grow food more effectively? How do we avoid a world in which only the rich can afford nutritious food?
Putting a roof over everyone’s head with 3D-printed housing
While access to affordable, safe housing is a fundamental right, it is still not within reach for many residents of European and MENA countries. Across both regions, house prices have been growing faster than income, making it more difficult for young people to get their foot on the housing ladder. Increased migration has put extra pressure on the housing crisis; refugees in both regions are sometimes still waiting to be housed in a way that looks after their most basic requirements. Access to affordable housing has shown to significantly improve the quality of life of those most in need through the creation of adequate jobs, financial stability, and improved health, security and population diversity. Moreover, its profound effects are capable of transforming communities, especially when the projects are designed with an urban plan in mind.
New digital innovations are offering a solution to this housing shortage. Harnessing the revolutionary power of 3D printing, companies in Russia, China, the U.S. and the Netherlands have already proven that not only can a home be 3D printed, it can be done cheaply, efficiently and easily. For instance, the American company Icon unveiled a 3D printed concrete model home in Texas and claims it’s capable of printing a home in 24 hours for less than $4,000. Will 3D printing replace the traditional construction of houses? Is 3D printing offering a solution to the housing crisis?
This session comprises a one-hour long question-and-answer session with a top leader.
Four small group conversations will run in parallel on issues that matter to the EYL40 and YMV to gain expertise and learn from each other in an informal setting.
- Climate resilience
- Integration and inclusion
- Digital economy
- EU-Africa relations
Including the youth perspective in global decision-making
Across the European and MENA regions, there is a growing trust gap between young people and their governments, multilateral organisations and even international civil society. Reactionary political and media discourse has led to the alienation of youth from multilateral discussions rather than empowering them as essential partners for international dialogue and development.
Meanwhile, governments across the world have agreed on the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that calls for a bold transformation in policy and practice. Its 17 SDGs are based on the understanding that the challenges we face, such as poverty, environmental destruction, inequality, over-consumption and conflict, are all interconnected and cannot be tackled by individuals or separate countries. It’s time to acknowledge the importance of the contributions made by young people to build and maintain peace, bringing innovative ideas to conflict prevention and resolution, and to recognise that young people’s voices need to be heard and respected as equal partners for dialogue.
How do we counter the political indecisiveness that currently prohibits global cooperation? How do we enable young adults to make better use of their connectivity and join hands in their needs and concerns? How do we empower young people as agents of change and key actors in the implementation of the SDGs and sustainable development strategies?
- Europe's World
- By Susumu Yuzurio
- Europe's World
- By Marco Mensink
- Area of Expertise
- Citizens' Europe
- Fact Sheet
- Area of Expertise
- Citizens' Europe