South-East Europe Youth Gathering

Ohrid, “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, 13 September 2010

Speech by Eunice CAMPBELL-CLARK,

Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, Council of Europe



Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to begin by expressing my gratitude to the organisers of this Youth Gathering, the Committee of Ministers’ Chairmanship and the Agency for Youth and Sport of “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, for inviting the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe to take part in and contribute to this important event.

The aim of this Gathering is to find ways and means to promote the participation of young people in South-East Europe in local and regional life so it is quite fitting that the Congress is here as this is one of our priorities.  The Congress firmly believes that young people, as citizens in the towns and regions where they live, have an important role to play in the development of a democratic society and in promoting the fundamental democratic principles which are the Council of Europe’s mission.  When young people play this role, they gain understanding and insight into political life and democratic procedures which in turn enables them to promote these democratic values.

It is clear that democratic principles must be firmly embedded at national and international levels. However, genuine democracy is built first and foremost at local level, from the bottom up. Citizens gain their first democratic experience as young people at the local level and it is there that they learn about, and interact the most with democratic structures.  This is why youth participation in democracy is crucial. At the same time, effective participation can only be achieved if the political will exists and if elected representatives are committed to developing a permanent dialogue with them.  The local and regional elected representatives which make up the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe firmly believe in the importance of the participation of young people and translated this commitment into a set of principles and guidelines for such participation, brought together in the European Charter on the Participation of Young People in Local and Regional Life..

For the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, and here I quote from the Charter’s preamble:

Participation in the democratic life of any community is about more than voting or standing for election, although these are important elements. Participation and active citizenship is about having the right, the means, the space and the opportunity and where necessary the support to participate in and influence decisions and engage in actions and activities so as to contribute to building a better society.

This goes beyond the understanding of youth participation solely as political involvement or participation in youth councils or parliaments.  To participate means having influence on and responsibility for decisions and actions that affect the lives of young people.  And as the Charter states, participation applies to ALL young people, from all walks of life, regardless of their social and/or ethnic origins, without discrimination.

The Congress’ Charter does not treat young people as victims or as a vulnerable group that needs protection.  They are also not treated as objects of adults’ intervention, with the adults assuming they know what is best for young people – a common misconception.  Young people are now seen as active players in organisations or in community life.  They are seen as partners with lots of potential, talents and strengths.  They should have the opportunity to express their needs and to find ways of satisfying them.  If I may quote from the Manual on the Revised European Charter on Youth Participation which is called “Have Your Say!”, there is an African proverb which says “the one wearing the shoes knows exactly where they hurt” – in other words, young people are best placed to know what they want and what they need.  Youth participation is a sort of youth-adult partnership in which everyone’s voice is heard and taken seriously, in which aims, objectives, roles, responsibilities and decisions are negotiated and agreed upon collectively.  The skills and talents of young people and the experience and wisdom of adults come together in a mutually supportive atmosphere: no one instructs the other.

Youth participation takes many different forms, from voluntary work to being active in organisations, from participation in non-formal education to campaigning activities.  The Congress’ Charter specifically aims to promote youth participation at local and regional levels by providing concrete ideas and instruments.  The Charter is not a recipe on how to achieve effective youth participation, a recipe which must be followed step by step, as the situation in one country will be different to that in another.  Indeed situations will be different from one community to another.  The Charter should be seen rather as a set of principles, best practices and guidelines to enhance youth participation at local and regional levels.

I should also stress that, while the Charter is not a legally binding instrument, the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, which represents the 47 member states of our Organisation, adopted the recommendation supporting its implementation.  This means that the member states have a moral responsibility to put it into practice, even though they are not legally bound to do so. 

Ladies and gentlemen

South-East Europe has been a priority geographical zone for the Congress since peace was restored in this region at the end of the 1990s.  We have been striving to strengthen local and regional democracy in this region to help overcome the confrontation and feelings of mistrust, after all, democratic stability in South-East Europe is key to achieving democratic stability across Europe.  Strong local and regional authorities, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, are closest to citizens, and so are better able to respond to citizens’ needs and improve their situation.  These same authorities are better able to respond to young people’s needs and make sure that young people are actively involved in the definition of youth policy and in decision-making processes, as advocated by the Charter on Youth Participation.

No youth policy will succeed unless the highest political level of the community is committed to dealing with youth issues and prepared to make them a priority.  There also has to be a commitment from the political side to full participation of young people in youth policy development – asking youth their opinion and then going ahead with what had already been decided is tokenism, not participation.

This is why, ladies and gentlemen, the Congress welcomes “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”’s commitment to strengthening youth participation in South-East Europe, in particular at local and regional levels.  This initiative is an opportunity to try out new and innovative ways of involving young people in decision-making and in creating mechanisms for young people to express their ideas about all policy areas.  We also welcome the initiative to create a regional youth council for South-East Europe.  Youth councils are an excellent means of involving young people in decision-making and, as we all know, strength comes from unity. Such a structure will only strengthen youth participation thanks to exchanges of experience.  And as I’ve said, meaningful youth participation will help to achieve democratic stability in the region.

The Congress is very interested in following your endeavours to promote youth participation in South-East Europe which will necessarily involve, I am sure, the practical application of our Charter and its provisions. Your feedback on this process and on how our Charter is being implemented will always be welcome.

President, ministers, ladies and gentleman, I thank you for your attention.