Young European Council promoting participation of young people in EU's development

Slovenians Laura Seferaj and Petra Petan represented Slovenia at the Young European Council 2016, held in Brussels in early November for the third time. (Foto - UNAS)Slovenians Laura Seferaj and Petra Petan represented Slovenia at the Young European Council 2016, held in Brussels in early November for the third time. The initiative, which seeks to bring young people into the decision-making process at the EU level, received the Charlemagne Youth Prize 2015 from the President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz. It is an award for projects that promote the participation of young people in the development of the EU.

This year the event was held in the European Parliament and the European Committee of the Regions, under the High Patronage of the European Parliament and the Slovak Presidency of the EU. The youth delegates participated in a week-long discussions and negotiations, where they presented their ideas for improving different areas of EU activity, and wrote the best ones in the final communiqué, which will be presented to the legislators of the European Union and the United Nations.

Laura represented Slovenia at the Heads of State Council, where some of the most pressing issues currently facing the EU member states were discussed: high youth unemployment rate, democratic deficit and the migrant crisis.

In order to solve these, the delegates created a platform for the European Solidarity Corps, the idea that the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker presented in September. European Solidarity Corps is aimed at young EU citizens aged 17-30, and provides opportunities for volunteering and employment in the EU countries, while promoting the shared values ​​of the Union, solidarity and inclusion.

Regarding the democratic deficit, the young delegates agreed that the highest representative of the EU, the president of the European Commission, should be chosen at the elections in the Member States, contrary to the current non-transparent practice.

In addition, the delegates tackled the question of the refugee crisis, since they believed its management has been so far poorly executed. Despite the Member States’s obligations, arising from the plan to relocate 160,000 asylum seekers from Italy and Greece, only 5.651 refugees have been resettled so far. The policy, proposed by the delegates, is built on positive incentives. Those Member States that will voluntarily join the resettlement scheme, will receive non-refundable funds, which will have to be used exclusively on policies of public interest, thus benefitting the citizens.

Petra participated in the Gender Equality and Social Inclusion Council, which tackled the other set of key issues the Union faces today: the rise of political radicalism and hostile ideologies, social stratification and, despite the fact that gender equality is one of the founding principles of the EU, an alarming lack of progress of more than a half of the EU population. The reports that indicate that women will be economically equal to men in 118 years at the current rate of progress, or that one in three women in the EU have already experienced some form of physical or sexual violence, have encouraged Petra to add her voice to the currently charged debate about gender (in)equality.

Petra’s proposal would oblige large publicly listed companies in the EU to annually calculate and publish their gender pay gaps. The gender pay gap should be calculated as an overall figure, and by salary quartiles. Organizations should publish the figures annually on their websites, in their annual reports, and submit them to the department FEMM within the Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers. Based on the collected data, an accreditation system for women friendly companies would be developed, as well as a penalization system for companies that fail to fulfil the reporting requirement. While calculating the gender pay gap does not by itself solve the structural problems that contribute to wage inequality between men and women, it is nonetheless important to raise awareness of the issue among all stakeholders, and to contribute to a more accurate understanding of its extent. Delegates have stressed that we can’t mend what we don’t measure.

Another proposal in the Gender Equality and Social Inclusion Council considered the development of a system of funding of local NGOs that strive to break stereotypes about vulnerable groups of people and build bridges between them and the mainstream society. The third proposal argued in favour of a stronger legal protection of vulnerable minorities against hate crime.

MEPs Tanja Fajon and Igor Šoltes were eager to hear out Petra’s and Laura’s proposals, as they welcomed them in their offices in the European Parliament and talked to them about their current priorities for the EU.

Author: Laura Seferaj