Last year, during the high time of the European elections 2014, we solved the pressing issue of youth unemployment in Europe. Well, sort of. Here is what we did…
Since several years, the European Youth Parliament, probably the biggest non-partisan youth platform for civic education in Europe (beyond the EU, in nearly 40 countries), is organising Think Tanks. Seen as a tool that expands the traditional conference catalogue to actually interact with policy makers and spread the opinion and ideas of young people into the political machine. Already in 2010 I was lucky to attend as a participant, to find new narratives for Europe.
In 2014, a new Think Tank was organised, focusing on the pressing issue of youth unemployment in Europe. Coming from Germany, this topic is hardly on the agenda, as the general opinion here is that we actually lack labour force, especially young people. However, the situation in other countries, such as Greece, Spain and Portugal, looks highly different. With up to 50% of a generation being without a job, despite having received an excellent education, is a devastating situation, not only for the single individuals, but for the economy and future of their countries and Europe as a whole.
After I applied for the role of a chairperson to the Think Tank, I was happy the International Office of the European Youth Parliament invited me to create a concept and timeline for the Think Tank 2014. Having attended previous events, I knew how difficult it is to be productive at the spot with a group of 20+ people, having only a weekend available. I knew that we needed to have an intense preparation phase. But further than that, for me the participants of the Think Tank, who all had to apply, where also representatives of the EYP community as a whole. Therefore I wanted to see them interact with the community, that was only available virtually all over Europe.
Together with the SF/EYP-office we developed a concept and a project line, that would allow the participants to come fully prepared, but as well to open up the format to get more opinions in, both from individuals but as well from experts. At this point I want to thank Mathilde extremely, who supported me and the idea all the time and took most of the nitty-gritty details off my back.
When calling for participants, we also wanted to have other opinions into the pool, so we were really happy to be able to pick two of the participants coming from outside of the EYP community. Once selected, we gathered personal information of all the participants, putting them into a little participants booklet. We sent this together with an overview document we created previously to get the people on board. This was our chance to set a frame, which dimensions we want to have covered and that build a basis for their further work which we wanted to be as empowering as possible.
After the overview we also conducted a little research in the EYP network. The participants were then asked to melt the inspiration they got both from the overview and the survey results into a brainstorming. Once we got their ideas, we did a little clustering and prioritising, which was quite a struggle, but made us end up with a list of around 8 topics we then assigned to the participants.
Whilst they conducted further, deeper research (remember that they haven’t met yet), we also opened the results of the brainstorming to the EYP community, using google docs. Everybody was invited to leave their ideas and comments. The participants of the TT were invited to reply and consider them for their research. With both sources in mind, the participants were asked to prepare accordingly for a working weekend, taking place in Berlin in the beginning of April 2014.
Having had the intense preparations, the actual work was quite smooth. I was happy that the participants had understood that they were responsible for their productivity and that my function would be more of a moderator than an actual chairperson, who would give directions. I was happy that it worked out for most of the time and that most discussion were quite productive and ended up having good content – as much as you can actually be innovative when finding a consent with 20+ people.
We prepared three highlights to steer up the discussions of the group. Firstly, we invited some very competent experts from labour research institutes that gave valuable input. Secondly we also tried to invite young people we actually moved abroad to seek better chances in the labour market (for which Berlin is a hotspot these days), however that turned out to be more difficult than expected. At last, we started a hangout for everyone who wanted to give an input. Unfortunately, the participation rate here was very low 🙁
Nevertheless, the product outcome was quite a good and interesting read and I am still very proud of the process I went through with those cool people. As a little reward, we were actually invited to Brussels to hand over the final report of the Think Tank to the by-then-still president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso and László Andor, back then Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion thanks to the effort of the SF/EYP-office in Berlin. Although not all participants could make it, I still believe this was a very nice sign of gratitude to the participants.
Thanks to the enormous effort of the Schwarzkopf-Stiftung and the European Youth Parliament, I was also lucky to attend further events dealing with the topic of youth unemployment. As it was election time, luckily a lot of politicians were in a talky mood. One of them was a panel discussion with candidates to the European Parliament, hosted by the foundation. The other one was another panel discussion, but with Andrea Nahles, German Federal Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, and Jutta Allmendinger, a very talkative and competent expert on labour policy and markets in Europe. That was much fun and made the summer of 2014 very exciting for me.