Interview with Nicholas Kujala, VP Candidate for the European Youth Forum

, by Dvir Aviam Ezra

Interview with Nicholas Kujala, 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?

My name is Nicholas Kujala, and I am a 28-year-old current board member of the European Youth Forum (YFJ). I have a background of more than 10 years in the Youth Sector, spanning everything from local youth engagement here in Finland to the global level. Outside of the YFJ, I am studying meteorology and geology at the University of Helsinki, and I work for the Finnish Meteorological Institute.

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?

The simple answer is my deep passion for youth advocacy and everything the YFJ has already given me. Having served one mandate on the board, I have really managed to make an impact, and I want to keep working on the topics of the YFJ as a Vice President during the next mandate. In my past roles, I have acquired a lot of diverse leadership skills, which I am ready to use in the YFJ now. As a leader I have been described as humble: I want to act as a role model for the next generation of young activists in Europe. The most important skill as a leader is the ability to listen and build opinions based on mutual discussions. We can’t put ourselves on different levels if we want to find common solutions. I am fully committed to working with my peers on making the YFJ a better organization, and make Europe and the world a better place.

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

I believe that the YFJ plays a crucial role in advocating for deeper integration and cooperation by manifesting its pro-European values throughout the work we do. The European Youth Forum actively engages with policymakers at both the national and European levels to advocate for policies that promote greater integration and cooperation among EU member states. This can include advocating for initiatives that facilitate youth mobility, implementing the EU youth strategy and a rights based approach to youth policy. The YFJ works also to ensure that young people have a voice in the decision-making processes that affect them. A very concrete example here is the EU Youth Dialogue, where young people get to both learn about the EU and also shape its future. The Youth Forum needs to empower young people to contribute their ideas and perspectives to discussions about European integration throughout its work. Only by putting youth in the middle can we achieve a deeper cooperation within the Union.

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

There are many good best practices in the field of education, employment and social inclusion on accessibility. The first is the recognition of degrees and skills across Europe. We need to ensure mobility opportunities for young people, and the recognition of skills, both formal and non-formal is crucial. We need to ban unpaid internships and ensure that young people have access to fair wages through collective bargaining. Young people should also have opportunities to be entrepreneurs, and not be afraid to fail. Innovations have always come from trial and error. Let young people find their road, with time. For social inclusion we can go to the current cycle of the EU youth dialogue to find many good concrete measures proposed by the young people. I fully agree that we need to focus on mental health, stopping poverty, investing in quality housing and supporting youth emancipation through concrete measures. I am also a strong advocate for low-effort funding opportunities for youth, with a specific focus on youth with fewer opportunities. In my Nordic engagement, I chaired a committee giving out low-threshold grants to youth groups. This was one of my favorite initiatives to work with, making a clear impact on young peoples lives.

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?

I got involved already in 2009, when I joined my local youth council and the local chapter of my party-political youth organization. Throughout the years, I have enjoyed growing as an activist and an advocate both in the partisan and non-partisan world, moving gradually from the local level up through the global level. I have always found a reason to stay engaged and stay motivated. Whether it was low bus service on my local street or global climate inequality and crisis, the person I was when I started getting engaged is still strongly a part of me. The project I am still today the proudest of is when we created a global advocacy toolkit for youth on biodiversity. We worked on this in the Nordic Youth Council, and I had an active role in implementing this toolkit as president of the Council. Unfortunately the pandemic pushed our hardest efforts by a couple years, but the toolkit has been the foundation of many new youth biodiversity movements and had a role in the Biodiversity COP in Montreal in 2022. Being able to put together a project and see it grow its own wings and evolve throughout the world is an incredible feeling.

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

This needs to be one of the bigger priorities for the next two years. The biggest challenge is not only to encourage members to send delegates from various backgrounds to our events, but also ensure that anyone can understand our policy and scope of work. As vice president, it is crucial to view my own work as critically as possible from a minority point of view. How much space am I taking, and how much is there for others. How inclusive am I in my actions. It is really up to all of us to safeguard the opportunities to participate and make it a priority. We need to also actively engage with marginalized communities and seek their input and feedback on the priorities, activities, and policies of the YFJ. We can be much better on capacity building and putting in targeted efforts to make our activities more inclusive.

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 fully support a treaty change in the EU. When the world around us evolves, we need to keep evolving with it. Our structures are currently outdated, and the EU is becoming less functioning, which is impacting its decision making and our collective future. Young people should be in the center when the next generation of the EU is being shaped. The Conference on the Future of Europe was a start, but many of the topics never left the conference for future discussion and implementation. I support the calls for more pan-European decision making, strengthening the role of the European Parliament, getting rid of vetoes in decision making and implementing a true youth test in the EU. Beyond this, the EU needs to facilitate more spaces for youth to participate and truly be able to show what they are capable of. This needs to be taken to the member state level, and best practices should be share throughout the EU.

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

I believe that traditional political parties still play a role in our societies, but they need to be capable to change when the world around changes. We need to foster all kinds of civic engagement, as one size does not fit all. We can still see a high level of interest toward political structures in many places, and they act as a good way to impact our societies. Civic engagement has always been the cornerstone of societal change. Reforms come from the need of the people, and young people are showing an urgency on many fronts. Whether it is the climate, nature, economy, human rights or peace, young people need to be guaranteed the space they are most confident in to act. This includes traditional political spaces and elections, but also so much more.

Finally, we would love to have a personal book/movie/series recommendation for our readers!

I want to recommend the book “The rules to break” by Richard Templar. This book was a way for me learn to question the rules and habits around me, many self-learned and caught from my surroundings. Being able to judge the situation and make decisions is crucial in everyday life, and this book gives a lot of ideas on how to become better at it.

Thank you for the interview!

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