Interview with Peter MatjaÅ¡ič, President of YFJ
He is the president of the European Youth Forum (YFJ), the highly influential independent, democratic, youth-led platform, representing 98 National Youth Councils and International Youth Organisations from across Europe. He has been the Secretary General of the Young European Federalists (JEF) and now, through his newly acquired position, he is striving for the interests of young people across the European continent. He has been described as possessing “experience, skills and boundless dynamism” and incarnating the ideal of “being the change you want to see in the world”! He is a majestic Peter MatjaÅ¡ič! And he is ours! We managed to track him down somewhere in between his busy schedule so that you could now enjoy this thorough interview where he is discussing practically everything youthful!
- Peter, what are the main challenges, in your opinion, that young people face these days in Europe and how does the European Youth Forum (YFJ) address these issues?
The challenges that young people face in Europe today are many and vary from region to region and person to person. Some are facing high levels of unemployment, others are fighting for their students rights, some need to fight for their basic freedoms, others for their right to build up representative youth structures, some face visa barriers when trying to live out their European dream, others face discrimination based on age, gender, religion, race or sexual orientation. But what all young people in Europe have in common is an interest in quality (higher) education, a smooth transition from education to the labour market, the possibility of becoming autonomous and of being respected and listened to as an essential part of a given society and have the means to actively participate in decision-making that affects their life directly. The European Youth Forum aims at tackling exactly these issues and works to empower young people to participate actively in society to improve their own lives, by representing and advocating their needs and interests and those of their organisations.
- How do you evaluate the first 6 months of mandate as President of European Youth Forum (YFJ) and what will be the main focus of YFJ until the end of 2012?
First and foremost, I am very satisfied with the fact that the YFJ has managed the transition from one Board to another in a smooth manner and a big credit for that goes to the YFJ Secretariat, the backbone of our organisation. As President and Board I believe we have managed to live up to the electoral promise of making the platform more inclusive and more participatory. We did this by maintaining the good work done by our predecessors, build on their experience and further improve the working methods, the working structures and the involvement and ownership of member organisations in the work of the YFJ. We have done this with regular monthly updates of our work, with a set of new working structures with a clearer mandate, with the creation of databases of youth experts in areas where our MOs have better and more experience than the YFJ itself (e.g. health and new media).
Externally, we managed to demonstrate to our partners that we continue being a reliable and constructive interlocutor that stands up for what we believe in. We are recognised as THE voice of young people in Europe, which was confirmed by our meetings with the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe and the President of the European Commission in April and May respectively.
I know that we have done our utmost in many areas, especially when it comes to funding of youth work, and I am cautiously optimistic that we will help secure sufficient funds for youth work and youth organisations in the future financial frameworks and budgets of the EU and the CoE. It is difficult to measure and quantify the success of our work in the short and medium-term. As an advocacy platform, we are involved in lobbying for many long-term issues, such as youth rights, quality assurance of non-formal education, recognition and validation of volunteering and volunteer rights, etc.
The main focus of the YFJ until the end of 2012 stays in line with our work-plan that focuses on three main pillars: Young Volunteers as Builders of European Society, Strong Youth Organisations for a Stronger Civil Society, A Rights-Based Approach for an Inclusive and Participatory Europe. But if I had to mention just two main things – though we do a lot more – it would be funding for youth organisations as one and setting the new cycle of strategic priorities of the YFJ for 2013-2018 as the other.
Strong youth organisations:
- Considering the fact that European Union faces the economic crisis, many say that in response to these problems “we need more Europe” meaning deeper integration and solidarity, but there are some people who think that we need “less Europe”. What is your opinion?
My personal opinion has always been that “we need more Europe”. But the key question is what we actually mean by that. As someone who was born in a country that doesn't exist anymore and a system long gone, faced with transition and then the prospects and reality of the European integration, I believe that the notion of Europe is an ideal we are striving for and should continue striving for. It is an ideal of creating something new, something we have in common while respecting our differences. As a federalist at heart I surely want to see more competences at European level but only in areas where that makes sense: the principle of subsidiarity! We have a perverse situation in the EU where those things that would make most sense of having at European level (foreign and defence policy, economic policy within the Eurozone etc) are actually in the hands of 27 national governments, each being able to block a decision usually based on national interests and not the broader European interest. The main problem is the lack of real debate and proper information sharing about what the EU can and cannot do. The real power is in the hands of Member States but they tell their citizens at national level in their own media that it was the “evil eurocrats from Brussels” imposing something on them, instead of being honest and saying we agreed to this because it was in the interest of all European citizens. I think it is our responsibility as young people who are living the European dream of being able to meet, travel, exchange and communicate with each other on a scale unseen in the past, to use this experience and demonstrate that we can work together, that we want to work together and hold our politicians at all levels accountable for their (in)actions and words.
- Youth in Action programme is an essential tool especially for the International Youth Organisations in Europe and neighbourhood areas. European Commission announced that YiA Programme won’t be a separate programme from 2013 onwards; what will be the reaction of YFJ to ensure the core support for INGYOs?
There were two important announcements from the Commission recently that are interlinked. First was the mentioned announcement followed by the proposal for the next Multi-Annual Financial Framework (MFF) for the period 2014-2020, which includes a budget of 15.2 billion euro dedicated to young people. At this stage, it is difficult to assess the real value of the proposed joint budget line for education, training, youth and sport against the value these areas have under the current multi-annual financial framework, and specifically, it is not clear, what share of the planned increase will fall on youth. Despite the encouraging signal of a bigger and more accessible budget, YFJ is worried how the value of youth organisations will be reflected on the budget appropriations within the single programme.
We believe that youth organisations are an indispensable channel for supporting active citizenship in Europe, for developing young people's skills and competences, and in this work, they have benefited from the Youth in Action programme in a considerable manner. Participation of young people in the life and development of Europe goes beyond work life and that is why the next financial framework should not link it only to employability and the labour market, which is how the communication tends to portray it. YFJ is concerned how the “Education Europe” programme supports the implementation of article 165 of the Lisbon Treaty, whose purpose is to “encourage the development of youth exchanges and of exchanges of socio-educational instructors, and encourage the participation of young people in democratic life in Europe”. Also, inclusive Europe should mean opportunities for all young people and the mobility schemes should be accessible to everyone.
The Commission is only due to present its proposal of the new programme by the end of October, so until then we will do everything we can to influence the shape of this programme. Together with our Member Organisations we are lobbying national politicians to ensure sufficient support for strong youth dimension within the new programme, ideally as a YiA2.0 in form of a sub-programme of the new integrated one. Moreover, we are organising a big YiA visibility event for decision-makers in Brussels during the V-Village in the framework of our II Youth Convention on Volunteering.
YFJ aims to show that by supporting youth organisations and youth work the EU actually implements its own political goals, but also supports the personal growth of a young person. We will focus on the effect of those actions that it wishes to be maintained in the new Education Europe programme: 1.”Youth Moves” on mobility and volunteering (Youth for Europe and European Voluntary Service), 2. “Youth Works” support to youth work 3. “Youth Decides” supporting participative structures. In all actions presented YFJ aims also to show how the actions contribute to the general principles of the YiA programme: European Citizenship, Participation of Young People, Cultural Diversity and Inclusion.
- In your opinion, what would be the main challenges that international youth organizations will face in upcoming years in Europe?
Given the current economic and financial climate, I have to say that funding will be the biggest challenge that all civil society organisations will be faced with. But international youth organisations will be particularly hit by it as international youth NGOs are forced to compete with national, regional and local organisations within existing funding schemes such as the current YiA programme of the European Commission or the European Youth Foundation of the Council of Europe – both of which are in danger of facing budget cuts. Most international youth organisations already experience difficulties in securing sustainable long-term funding or even core funding that would allow them to cover the basic operational costs. In most cases they need to rely on project funding, which has a limited budget for staff costs and this in turn limits the scope of the organisations work. Moreover, such situations often lead to being forced to offer unpaid internships and rely solely on volunteer work of its activists, leading to many of them ending up in precarious situations. Therefore we need to showcase the importance of the role and work that international youth organisations have in contributing to the personal development of many young people as well as for the development of society as a whole and combating many negative aspects of the human nature (racism, xenophobia, discrimination, etc) and that providing them financial sustainability is a sensible long-term investment.
- How do you see the role of youth exchanges in Europe and other regions?
The role of youth exchanges is as important as ever. I have personally benefited a lot from youth exchanges in the past and those have been the crucial experiences that allowed me to grow as a person and had a profound influence on who I am today. There is no better way of communication than the direct interaction. No better way of breaking down barriers between people and fostering mutual understanding than with an exchange that enables a safe and fun environment in which you meet your peers from other countries, other cultures, other religions, other backgrounds, other sexual orientation, with different opinions and views but often facing same problems as you.
- A few months ago YEU started the celebration of its 25th anniversary. What is your experience with our organisation?
I remember very well the lovely celebration of YEU's 25th birthday during the YFJ Council of Members meeting in Antwerp back in early May. My experience has always been very positive. From meeting your members in international events, co-organising events or supporting the same cause in different fora. Once again my sincerest congratulations to all YEU activists and youth workers who have made your organisation an indispensable member and reliable partner of the YFJ and which has helped change and move the lives of hundreds of thousands young people in Europe.
- If you have a chance to solve one problem of young people nowadays, what it will be?
This is a very tricky question as the list is very long. If I had a magic wand, I would ensure that each and every young European would be able to take part in a youth exchange or do a European voluntary service in order to offer them a chance to experience something unforgettable and hopefully motivate them to become active citizens. But I would say from the perspective of my role as President of the European Youth Forum I would want to do two things: first, secure sufficient funding (both operational and project-based) for youth organisations and their activities; and second, ensure that young people are respected and have a real say and voice in everything that concerns them. This is something we are aiming to achieve and I believe it is possible but it remains a big challenge.
Questions byMichal Klopocki (Newsmail Journalist and Researcher) and Marko Paunovic (YEU International Secretary General)