13 Jul, 2021

The voice of Europe’s youth needs to be heard for a better tomorrow

The COVID-19 crisis has affected us all, but for many young Europeans – labelled as ‘Generation Corona’ by some – dealing with the economic, social and health consequences will be a reality for decades to come, writes LYMEC President Antoaneta Asenova-Bihlmayer in this op-ed.

This op-ed was originally published in the ALDE Party Liberal Bulletin in June 2021.

Every generation faces challenges. For today’s young people, key concerns include the future and financial stability, coupled with continuously high youth unemployment and workforce entry opportunities which come with stark competition and high expectations.

We are also concerned with the future of our environment and see the climate crisis as requiring immediate action, not as something politically polarised. Despite being the fabric of our everyday lives, social media is also a matter of growing concern, from privacy issues to its impact on democracy. Moreover, with advances in technology, we are drowning in information, which adds a completely different perspective, speed and magnitude to the issues facing the youth of today. Last but not least, of course, come COVID-19 related uncertainties.

The pandemic has hit us all, but many young people have been uniquely affected, with their educational and employment opportunities curtailed and opportunities to socialise and travel halted. This has brought about the term “Gen C” or “Generation Corona”. Studies suggest that more than 70% of adolescents feel psychologically burdened, more anxious, easily irritated, worried and report a deterioration in their relationships with others. We do not yet know what the long-term repercussions of the pandemic will be for young people, but there is no doubt that this generation will be paying for many of its economic, social and health consequences for decades to come. Therefore, it is more crucial than ever that young people are engaged and consulted in the recovery process, that we shift from being subjects of youth policies to active architects in their development and implementation, and that youth voices are heard and respected.

We would like to see the EU and its Member States move quickly to ensure that meaningful education, training and employment opportunities are made available to young people who are struggling to get their lives back on track after over a year of COVID-19 restrictions. It is vital that students and young people are properly trained and equipped for the jobs of the future, which require more advanced digital skills. At LYMEC, we have been providing many digital and online opportunities throughout the COVID-19 pandemic: in addition to shifting our Congresses and assemblies online, we have put new initiatives in place to connect young liberals from all over Europe and to provide opportunities to cooperate.

The Conference on the Future of Europe should be an important first step in bridging the dialogue between policymakers and Europe’s youth.

It is essential that we are given a platform for discussion on an equal footing, rather than infantilising us with concepts like role-playing or “youth-targeted” festivals, and that youth involvement continues long after the Conference ends. LYMEC has prepared several proposals ahead of the Conference, including on the young liberal response to COVID-19, reform of the EU institutions and the political focus of the EU. The process of developing and scrutinising these proposals has been a true exercise of cooperation and compromise between our members. We truly hope that Youth Agoras will take place, and that the Conference will not become a mere talking exercise but will be followed by bravery and determination in overcoming differences and adopting an agenda for common development and an ambitious Citizens’ Europe for tomorrow.

The current LYMEC Bureau could hardly have imagined a more challenging start to our mandate last year – however, we adapted quickly and have been working harder than ever to continue our mission of involving young people in politics and furthering the creation of a Liberal Europe.

You can follow LYMEC on Twitter here

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