Hungry for change: young people and MEPs is the subject of a special report by EUobserver. Ahead of next year’s European Parliament elections, EUobserver spoke to MEPs under 35 to find out more about young people’s voice in European legislation – and how they could play a bigger role.

Read the interview with MEP Irena Joveva below.

Looking back at the last legislative term, what were the most significant achievements or challenges you faced as a young member of the European Parliament?

This term has brought more young MEPs than there were in previous legislatures. At the very beginning, it was unusual to have had security ask about my badge — because based on my age, they thought I am an assistant (laughs).

We (cross party, younger members) tried to organise ourselves quite early on to make our voice and perspectives heard. It was time to bring about some changes at the parliament, as the structures we have seen do not match the current realities.

With my everyday work, commitments and ways in doing legislation — being transparent, being open to people and approachable, me (and many of my young colleagues) have shown that a different politics is possible and that men in grey suits who speak in a bureaucratic language nobody outside of their bubble understands are not the norm and that is time to change that.

We did achieve quite a lot (and I am saying ‘we’ as I myself could not achieve it all without the understanding and support of my colleagues) most notably we put an end to unpaid traineeships, we advocated for more possibilities for remote interactions at the parliament, we were at the forefront in the fight for climate, young people, abortion rights and others.

Given that the Covid pandemic has influenced our work and put us into unprecedented working conditions, I think we still managed to put our ways and ideas through and adjust rather quickly to the working methods.

How do you think your age and generational perspective have influenced your work and decision-making in the European Parliament? Can you provide examples of issues where your perspective differed from older colleagues? 

I work at the Committee for Culture and Education, Employment and Social Affairs and Environment, Public Health and Food Safety — all of which are very relevant to young people.

I have never seen myself as more important than someone else, or unapproachable, and I think that is one of the core differences you can see among some policymakers. With my team and all the staff at the Parliament, I see myself as equal. In all meetings, I carry a pen and notebook and I write down ideas I hear from the person who sits opposite of me as I am convinced that just because we sit at the European parliament, we do not by default know everything.

With my everyday work, I demonstrate that what I preach I do really practise.

I created a website Ideje, Ki Presegajo Meje [ideas that go beyond borders] where I specifically asked young people to write their ideas and concerns about current legislation, Europe, the world. I read it with a lot of interest as I think we can never know better the problems of someone than the person who is experiencing them. I work with youth and I think as a young person myself, I am there to represent them and be their voice here. I use social media a lot as a platform to interact with young people — I used to have quizzes, Q&As, and spent a lot of time at universities, NGOs and youth associations to not lose the connection with youngsters on the ground. I think this is the core difference between me and some other colleagues who still see politics and themselves as being unreachable for citizens and forgetting they are where they are because and for the citizens. Finally, I also have a young daughter and in all decisions I take, I take them for her, as I also want to make and leave a better world for her.

Have you encountered any obstacles or biases in the European Parliament based on your age?

Not really. Surely, it took some adjustment time in the beginning for members to accept that there is also a younger generation joining them and who is willing to take up the initiative to change some rules and procedures at the parliament. I think that the work style is obviously different for us and the way we approach politics as well, but quite frankly the biggest obstacles I have had were when I just joined politics at home. As a young woman, that was quite challenging and my knowledge and capabilities were sometimes questioned because of my age and the fact that I came from a different field (I was a journalist). I am happy to see that slowly things are changing, but it took some of us to show by example that we can still be good politicians, good young mothers (or fathers) and use simple language and social media to bring complex policies closer to our people.

What are your expectations and priorities for the upcoming legislative term in the European Parliament? Are there specific issues or policies that you believe require urgent attention, especially from a youth perspective?

My first wish is to have youth go to the polls and vote. It is very important to have young people decide in which direction the EU will go in the next five years. I am aware that many things did not go perfect, but not casting your vote is also not a solution. We have many crises at the moment — the war in Ukraine, inflation, climate change, youth unemployment, mental health — to name only a few. I am confident that young people have many important things to say and I would really ask them to reach out to their representatives, to cast their votes and to be co-creators of politics and their future. I hope the next legislature will bring more young members who have an open ear and heart for the younger generations. There is much work to be done in the fields of environment, employment, culture, education, health — all of which concern youth and their, our, future.

In light of recent youth-led movements and activism across Europe, such as climate strikes and social justice movements, how do you see the role of young MEPs in amplifying these concerns and translating them into policy actions at the European level?

I think that young MEPs really amplify the voices of the concerned youth and we truly involve their ideas in our work. From my experience, young people are more likely to talk to us and preach out to younger members as they feel they are more and easier approachable. As stated previously, all the decisions I make I think about their impact they will leave behind for the future.

One issue was banning unpaid traineeships in the EU. I remember myself how hard it is to make ends meet as a student and then to be asked to work somewhere for free — to me it is just not possible. In this case, a large part of young people would have been discriminated against, as they cannot sustain this financially. On the other hand, you had some members who claimed that such an experience is already a door-opening opportunity, which gives the benefit where, I asked myself? — but do they even know how it is to need work experience, do a brilliant job and get no financial compensation in return?

This, for example, we concretely put into EU legislation. We heard the concerns and we understand them, and did our utmost to really transpose it into EU legislation and to fight for them in this house.

The same was with the Nature Restoration law where we heard the screams of young people and their legitimate concerns, which some groups and members did not.

I am in favour of having an EU ‘youth test’, which would mainstream the young in all policies and assess their impact on young people, but, unfortunately, you see colleagues who are not enthusiastic about youth questions but they rather focus their decisions on other actors, political gains, immediate short term results or so. This test would really help also those who do not really hear the youth or dismiss them, to have the law proposals assessed and tested for youth and have this more visibly highlighted — in all the laws we work on.

How do you see the overall representation of young people in the European Parliament? What reforms or changes would you advocate for to enhance the representation and voice of young MEPs in the future?

The number of young MEPs clearly shows that they do not proportionally reflect the young population of the EU, so I hope we will have more young members joining in the future. Concerning concrete ideas, I think that the EU youth test, more panels with young activists and their presence and open exchanges, as a regular thing to do. This should become a norm and not an exception.

And here I know that certain members do not like to being told what they should do and how they should do their work, which was also the case with the opinion I did on citizens’ dialogues and citizens’ participation in EU decision-making, where it was difficult to persuade some colleagues that they should be spending more time *with* people on the ground, and have a bottom-up approach in their work.

Another issue which is not talked about enough is maternity leave. If we want to have more young MEPs we also need to assure their right to maternity leave as we can be good mothers and good politicians, but we should not be punished for giving birth when, in those six months you are allowed not to vote, but not voting is not a solution. I think we have shown that we are able to think outside of the box and to bring a fresh, friendlier, more flexible atmosphere into politics — and, at least for my constituency, I think it worked well and was much appreciated.

The original interview can be accessed HERE.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *