Strengthening Youth Participation in EU Democratic Life

#YouEU is a European initiative that aims to reinvigorate the relationship of European youth with the EU, and to promote active youth participation in the EU democratic life by harnessing the potential of digital tools and promoting e-participation. The programme is based on the idea that a well-informed young generation, confidently engaging with digital democracy tools and making its claims open to the public sphere, will foster active EU citizenship and will build a sense of European identity.

“Our inspiration for this project came in 2020 after the speech of the President of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and her agenda, her agenda on Europe when she said that it is important and it’s primordial for the youth to build the future of EU by their own. So, this was our inspiration and this is the main idea that we wanted to address through this project,” says Apostolos Altiparmakis, researcher at the University of the Peloponnese, and in particular the Department of Political Science and International Relations, that participates in the #YouEU programme.

About the University of the Peloponnese 

The University of the Peloponnese is by principal an organization that works closely with young people and young students. It is a higher education institution of tertiary education level which works primarily with students over 18 years old and without any age limit as it is an institution that favors lifelong learning. At the moment, the University is decentralized in four different parts of the Peloponnese, and it has a community of more than 10,000 students. The University is very active in EU initiatives and programs, and has extensive experience in managing and implementing projects, and providing activities of youth participation across the EU – either with mobility projects or with other initiatives that are student-driven and community-based.

The #YouEU initiative          

The #YouEU initiative started in February 2021 and is co-funded by the Erasmus+ programme. It is a project that encourages youth to collaborate, engages youth to start working together, having peer review, exchanging ideas, practices and beliefs about Europe, EU institutions, and democratic way of life, and promotes civic engagement and civic participation.

“#YouEU is an initiative that we’re extremely happy in the Department,” Apostolos says. Besides the idea of youth building the future of EU by their own, the University wanted to “run” an initiative that would have an actual impact on youth and that would include youth-led activities throughout the project. “We wanted a project that would raise awareness, educate youth on eParticipation, on using digital tools and using all these new opportunities that these tools and social media and digital platforms offer in order to come closer to the EU, in order to foster and develop a more solid European identity and to contribute to this kind of activities across Europe.”

The initiative was born because of the COVID 19 pandemic. The health crisis strengthened the importance and the necessity to use digital tools for our everyday life and everyday practices, especially in terms of civic engagement and participatory activities. We’ve passed to another kind of era with more digitalized and virtual participation and virtual collaboration in all different spheres, Apostolos notes.

Greek youth organisations were actively engaged

In the first semester of the project, the University of the Peloponnese organised a workshop in order to brainstorm with people from the field, young people, youth organizations, and youth workers in order to identify the needs for the educational materials that the project will develop. It was a positive surprise that there was a very large representation of Greek youth organizations and a very large number of young people coming online to meet and discuss with each other. “It was very interesting because we came across other very interesting initiatives and some of them were surprising us. They have been youth-led from very young people, from people aged from 18 to 20 years old, that had great success. And they have already mobilized a large number of young people in multiple cities in Athens, in Greece.”

According to Apostolos, a negative aspect was that some representatives of youth organizations older in age were more skeptic about how they will do that, how they will reach the youth, how they will engage them in this kind of activities, what should they include in the educational materials and how this could be attractive for youth. At the same time, though, this negative aspect through dialogue and through evidence-based results and argumentation led to a very fruitful and very constructive discussion that also created some very concrete ideas for the learning materials that are now already prepared.

Engaging underrepresented young people

The #YouEU project is now in the second year of implementation, and in the middle of its activities. The partnering organisations have already created a guide with best practices of youth participation and youth engagement with a focus on the use of digital tools. They have also prepared the YouEU e-course with learning materials and learning outcomes for young people and youth organisations, which are the main ways that underrepresented young people are engaged. These tools are accessible to everyone without any discrimination, regardless of the social background, the economic background, or any other kind of discriminatory aspect that would be in place. “We have created tools that are easy to use, available to everyone, and they need no particular programs or particular technical equipment or anything like that,” Apostolos notes.

What makes this initiative effective?     

    The initiative’s success is based on three pillars, according to Apostolos. The first pillar is the expertise that both the University of the Peloponnese and its colleagues and partners from the other countries have in implementing such initiatives. Secondly, it is the dissemination strategy since the University has the experience and the communication capacity to disseminate properly the activities that they are designing. Thirdly, it is the education part. Vey high-level educational materials have been created, that bear the signature and the assurance of the University of the Peloponnese, but also of the other partners that are experienced, leading adult education providers in Europe.

“So, these three aspects I think; experience in managing projects, dissemination capacity and of course high-level educational approach and materials” are the key to this initiative’s success, he says.

It is important that young people come closer to the EU          

Apostolos sends two messages; a message to young people across EU, and a message to youth organisations that want to engage in youth initiatives.

The message to young people is that it is extremely important to come closer to the EU and develop an EU identity. “There are opportunities for young people, there are many opportunities and there is a great space for dialogue and a great space for participation in many different practices, not only in your country but also in all different EU countries,” he says.

As far as institutions are concerned – especially institutions that try to approach youth – Apostolos believes that they should try and design an approach that is youth-friendly. “Because in order to attract young people, you need to approach them in their language, in their times, let’s say, and in their own way of communication. So, this is extremely important and most initiatives that are targeting and are approaching youth, and are trying to address youth needs fail because of this wrong perspective and wrong approach.”

For more info about the #YouEU programme, you can visit: https://www.youeuproject.eu/.