Interview with Giorgos Papaioannou, VP Candidate for the European Youth Forum

, by Dvir Aviam Ezra

Interview with Giorgos Papaioannou, VP Candidate for the European Youth Forum

In anticipation of the European Youth Forum elections scheduled for 16/5/24, TNF sat with candidates for the leadership roles in this organization, representing young people across Europe, and asked them questions regarding their visions for European youth and the European federalism

Hi :) Please tell us a bit about yourself – what is your background and day job?

I was born and raised in the city of Thessaloniki. I took my baby steps in civil society there and I can proudly say that Thessaloniki of the European Youth Capital 2014 and EuroPride 2024 is my city. My academic background is in Political Science, a scientific field that I love and hope to continue on a research-level, not in a galaxy far, far away. I honestly feel nostalgic about academia and look forward to rejoining it soon. Beyond being a full-time volunteer and serving passionately the Erasmus Generation. I am also, a dedicated cinephile. In the words of Hossain, a film character from the film “Close-up” by Abbas Kiarostami: Whenever I see a film, I dissolve myself in it. I get lost, and this has played an essential role in my life.

What inspired you to pursue a leadership role within the European Youth Forum, and what specific qualities do you believe make you suitable for the position?

My inspiration derives from the role of the European Youth Forum as a driver for change. We have a duty to represent millions of young people and advocate for the full realisation of youth rights. We are the writers of the story for a social, green, democratic Europe. We need to include the youth’s perspective in every chapter. It can’t happen without us.

We want a Social Europe for the student who has two jobs to pay rent; the uninsured young immigrant who is invisible to the welfare system; the unpaid intern who is exploited with the promise of a better CV; the youth who is still in their child’s room with trapped dreams because they can not afford to go away. We want a Green Europe because there is not a Planet B. We bear the duty to stop the sixth mass extinction with its destructive effects on biodiversity. A just green transition -in line with planetary boundaries, respect towards the Global South and people’s well-being- is considered imperative. We cannot accept living in a Blade Runner world. We want a Democratic Europe because it permits us to determine our future freely. Civil society is our home. We come together to organise and advocate for youth rights, hold governments accountable for their actions and resist anti-democratic political forces.

I believe I am suitable for the position of Vice-President of the European Youth Forum, because of my long-term involvement in youth civil society, my passion for advocating for youth rights and the fact that I was always close to the YFJ’s membership and its needs.

How do you see the role of the European Youth Forum in advocating for deeper integration and cooperation among EU member states?

The European Youth Forum, as a platform of youth organisations, first and foremost needs to continue fully supporting its Member Organisations, which work already in these areas. Additionally, shrinking civic space can pose existential threats to youth organisations. A recent example is the closure of the historic British Youth Council. Advocating for sustainable funding for youth organisations is crucial, especially given the upcoming negotiations for the new Erasmus+ and programs of the European Youth Foundation which support the youth ecosystem.

Moreover, the consultation for the new EU Youth Strategy will be launched during the mandate of the new Board. The EU Youth Strategy consists of the framework for EU youth policy cooperation among EU member states. Our active engagement from the local to the European level is considered imperative. To maximise our impact, I propose to: i. Provide research-based policy inputs reflecting the diverse needs of European youth and addressing how mega-trends impact their socio-economic conditions and rights for the next decade. ii. Advocate for a consultative process within the EU Youth Dialogue, engaging our diverse membership through National Working Groups. iii. Secure micro-funding for INGYOs to organise consultations with their members.

What initiatives would you propose to address the challenges faced by young people in accessing education, employment, and social inclusion within the European context?

Social and Economic Inclusion is one of the four main Work Areas of the European Youth Forum, an enhanced pillar in our new Strategic Plan. If I could choose two I would focus on the following ones: First, the European Commission (EC) proposed a “Traineeship Directive” in March. While it is an important step to improve the working conditions of trainees, it is not enough. Unfortunately, the EC did not include remuneration in this binding legal text. During the negotiations between the European Parliament and the Council of the EU, we need to ensure that the right to remuneration and social security for trainees are included in the Directive.

Secondly, the current long-term EU budget -Multiannual Financial Framework- ends in 2027. After the EU elections, consultations and negotiations will be initiated for the new budget. During this period our role is crucial. We need to ensure a higher cross-sectoral allocation of funds for youth, from European Social Fund Plus -the main instrument of the EU for the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights- to the new EU Youth Programs (Erasmus+, European Solidarity Corps, DiscoverEU).

How did you get involved in youth politics and the YFJ? Can you provide examples of successful advocacy campaigns or projects you have led or participated in?

Civil society has been my home for 17 years, from school students’ councils to youth movements and organisations. This is where I belong, between the poets and the dreamers. For the last five years, I have been an active member of the Erasmus Generation, advocating for the rights of international students. As a Liaison Officer for Youth Affairs of Erasmus Student Network (ESN), my role includes monitoring relevant policy developments, contributing to ESN’s policy documents, and supporting our 45 National Organisations to engage with youth rights advocacy. Last but not least, representing ESN towards civil society stakeholders and international organisations, such as the European Movement International, the Council of Europe, EU Youth Dialogue, EU institutions and, of course, the European Youth Forum.

I will briefly mention some indicative campaigns and projects from the last year. First, the Erasmus Generation in Action campaign for the European Elections 2024, in which we try to mobilise the Erasmus Generation and raise awareness about EU citizenship and access to civil rights. A total outreach of 2 million young people with its activities. Secondly, a personal favourite is a joint research report of ESN together with the European Students’ Union (ESU) on international student housing. We tried to map and address the obstacles that students face to access housing when they are doing their learning mobility abroad. However, I am confident that, as the Turkish poet Nâzım Hikmet wrote: The most beautiful sea hasn’t been crossed yet.

How do you plan to ensure that the European Youth Forum remains inclusive and representative of the diversity of young people in Europe, including marginalised communities?

We have a duty towards our membership to preserve and enhance inclusivity in the democratic structures of the European Youth Forum (YFJ), facilitate membership engagement and foster transparency and accountability. I believe this is the only way to guarantee that the diverse needs of European youth are reflected in our advocacy and policy positions. Moreover, membership empowerment is one of my three core priorities and the main reason why I decided to run for Vice-President. In practical terms, I propose to initiate a governance review of YFJ’s internal structures to map obstacles in membership engagement and find suitable solutions to address them, while paying special attention to the needs of marginalized communities and young people with fewer opportunities. Also, regarding our new Policy Program, we need to commit to a Board-led participatory process in which comprehensive consultations with our membership will take place. The Policy Program is the specialisation of the Strategic Plan 2024-2028. It is an opportunity to enrich our advocacy work and ensure that our policy positions represent the diverse needs of European youth.

Do you support a treaty change in the European Union? If yes, how do you imagine the EU of the future and how should youth get involved in the process?

I drink water from the Holy Grail of Spinelli and solemnly swear on the Ventotene manifesto that I support a treaty change in the EU. I consider it imperative. Let’s reflect for a bit on fast-forward challenges and crises where the Lisbon Treaty reached or will reach its limits. The eurozone crisis showed the structural insufficiencies of a monetary union without a fiscal union, which becomes even more necessary to fund a just green transition; cope with a cost of living crisis and secure the European economy after the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Moreover, the unanimity rule in the European Council should be replaced with the Ordinary Legislative Procedure. We witnessed national governments, which have a rich record of violating the rule of law, to weaponize the unanimity rule against further coordination and European solidarity. The war in Ukraine reminded us in the most painful way possible of the need for further integration on foreign affairs and security policy and the importance of strategic autonomy. Additionally, the current institutional capacity of the Union would be crushed by a possible enlargement of 36 member states, which we all welcome of course. I am referring to examples like the architecture of the Common Agricultural Policy till the very structure of the European Commission (each member state, one Commissioner) and the applicable legislative procedures (ex. unanimity in foreign and social policy). So, I imagine the future of the EU only as a democratic federal Europe.

On the role of youth in the process, I adopt word by word the proposal in the open letter by Civil Society Europe: [...] convening a Convention to revise the EU Treaties. Civil society organisations, including those in the candidate countries, should be invited as participants to such a Convention and be involved in all phases of the latter’s preparation, including the agenda-setting phase and the preparatory meetings on the draft of the Treaty changes. Last but not least, we should all be thankful to civil society organizations, like JEF Europe and networks that YFJ is a member of, like European Movement International and Civil Society Europe, for being at the forefront of discussions on European integration and Treaty Change.

How would you address the issue of youth disillusionment with traditional political structures and parties, and channel their energy towards constructive civic engagement?

From the moment that a portion of young people distance themselves from traditional political structures and procedures, the role and the duty of youth organisations are becoming more important than ever. Youth organisations provide a friendly and safe space to actively participate in their democratic structures; come together with like-minded people while preserving the autonomy of each individual; organize and advocate for a common cause. Once again, the role of the European Youth Forum here is to support its member organisations, because they can provide the space to increase the democratic participation of young people. Moreover, the European Youth Forum has enriched the discussion on youth participation at the European level since 1996. Our campaign for Vote 16 says the simple fact that 16-year-old Europeans are here, they have a voice and this voice should be heard in the ballot. The EU Youth Test aims to make the legislative procedure more transparent and youth-friendly by introducing an impact assessment tool, practically to bring EU institutions closer to the reality of young people. (Re)building trust among young citizens and traditional democratic institutions is not an easy exercise but we all need to work together towards this direction. Finally, we would love to have a personal book/movie/series recommendation for our readers! I would recommend Green Border. A Polish film by Agnieszka Holland. A story about Syrian refugees trapped in the Polish-Belarusian borders. A painful drama of how common people can be entrapped in geopolitical games without any control on their lives. They escaped a war and they are now entrapped in a cold forest (green border) in northern Europe. The Belarusian side of dictator Lukashenko is weaponizing them and the Polish border police is doing everything so they don’t reach EU soil and get asylum.

More details about Giorgos’ campaign, here.

Thank you for the interview!

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