In April, I had an amazing opportunity of visiting to Brussels. This was my second time. My opinion of Brussels is that its architecture gives more meaning to the adage old is gold.
I was very excited about my itinerary for a week of meetings set up by my colleagues at DSW’s Brussels office, but this was, however, short-lived. The daunting cold and intimidating rain shivered in a reminder that we live in troubled times, which are unpredictable, unsteady, and uncertain due to a rising feeling of dissatisfaction and disenfranchisement among young people (like myself).
My unease was compounded by the contemporary environment we live in – one of “well structured” talking shops and High Level Delegation conferences that recycle statements and speeches, often while failing to deliver what young people really need.
Thankfully, our Brussels office allowed me to voice these sentiments in a seminar on the current and future vision of the EU’s relationship with the ACP region, at a Post-Cotonou Seminar. This was undoubtedly a once-in-a-lifetime occasion to kick it with the big boys, including Louis Michel, Jean-Marc Châtaigner , Théophile Ahoua N’Doli (Minister, Chief of Staff to the Vice-President of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire), Léonard-Emile Ognimba , and Patrick Guillaumont.
Fleetingly, I felt as if I was sandwiched in between those who control power, those who sustain the volume of governments’ voices, and those who tell young people what they should not be doing. For this reason, I wanted to make sure that the voice of young people – a generation that is waiting, struggling, wailing, migrating, and even dying to try to achieve a better life – was heard in the great halls of power.
Inevitably, what we need is a vision or plan that works with young people to achieve a better future for them, and a space for young people to exercise their right to be heard – as the true leaders of tomorrow.
The inequalities facing young people are real and need meaningful youth participation sessions like the ones offered in the ACP-EU forum. Many young people living in Africa, Caribbean and Pacific countries are unaware about the decisions made on their behalf, and decision-makers need to address this and take their concerns into account.
The current ACP-EU decision-making process is just one forum whose impact could be improved through more youth participation, making sure that young people have their voices heard in discussions about health, gender equality and youth-inclusivity.
This notwithstanding, in my time on this panel and in other meetings and events in Brussels during this week, I was able to learn a lot about EU programming and policy priorities. I was briefed on the strengths, weaknesses and challenges the European Commission department responsible for international development. I was able to experience the left and right wing philosophies clashing in the European Parliament. Furthermore, I was also able to better understand the EU’s general interest in development, the position of civil society in Europe, and the influence and the ever-growing appetite for legitimate change.
To sum up my experience, the unfriendly weather in Brussels could not discourage my thirst for learning, vigor for inquiring and passion for curiosity.