Interview with Rares Voicu, Presidential Candidate for the European Youth Forum

, by Dvir Aviam Ezra

Interview with Rares Voicu, Presidential 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?

Hello! My name is Rares Voicu, I’m 21 years old and I have been part of youth-led organisations since I was 15 years old. My journey in the youth movement started at a very local level, when I built up the courage to run for the presidency of the school students’ council in my high school. That was my first experience as a candidate and in the 7 years that have passed since then, I went on to lead school students’ organisations at regional, national and most recently European levels, as Board Member of OBESSU.

I am currently serving as a Board Member of the European Youth Forum, where I lead the organisation’s work on topics like the European Parliament elections, voting at 16, non-formal education, learning mobility, youth work and volunteering. I also work for UNICEF as an Adolescent Engagement and Participation Consultant, supporting the efforts of mainstreaming child and adolescent participation in decision-making processes.

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?

In 2022, I was running for my first leadership position in the European Youth Forum. My campaign for the Board was defined, at that moment, by a firm commitment to increase the focus of the YFJ on recognition of non-formal education, to further the platform’s work on youth mainstreaming in policymaking processes and to empower and create more spaces for our Member Organisations to steer the strategic management of the organisation.

Two years later, I am running for the Presidency of the platform with the same spirit and energy, and with the purpose of ensuring that the European Youth Forum broadens its outreach to a wider group of young people, that we (re)position ourselves as the main stakeholder for young people and youth organisations at the European level and that our internal governance becomes more transparent, inclusive, and efficient. The two visions I have brought before the membership of the YFJ, in 2022 and today, converge in many ways. My candidacy for the presidency is a renewed commitment to ensure that, as the largest platform of youth organisations in the world, we become even bolder in our work, we defend our values and connect even more youth organisations and young people from all over Europe.

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

The membership of the European Youth Forum includes National Youth Councils (NYCs) from all EU Member States; therefore, I think that role that we play in furthering integration and cooperation among EU member states is reflected by our mission as a platform - to connect youth organisations, and to create spaces for dialogue and exchanges between (in this case) National Youth Councils.

I think this brings a significant added value to the process of inter-member state cooperation, because it allows the youth ecosystems from the different member states, in which the NYCs play a significant role, to interact, to identify common challenges and to learn from each other.

Providing this platform for dialogue and interaction is, therefore, one of the most direct means through which the European Youth Forum can and does contribute to furthering cooperation between MS.

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 started my journey in the field of youth organisations and youth participation when I was 15 years old, at a very local level, in my high school, and then I went further to the regional level of school student representation and then became the president of the Romanian National School Students’ Council, representing more than 2 million school students at the national level. I then decided to continue my fight for school students’ rights at the European level, as a board member of OBESSU (Organising Bureau of European School Student Unions), one of the member organisations of OBESSU. I then became the delegate of OBESSU in the European Youth Forum, a position from which I also took part in the internal statues review process. I was then nominated by OBESSU to run for the Board of the YFJ in 2022 and now… here I am! It’s been quite a journey! :D

One of the most meaningful advocacy achievements I have reached in my entire journey so far is related to one of the main issues that my team and I tackled in the National School Students’ Council - the unequal and unjust allowance system for school students. Students living in rural areas would receive much lower allowances than those living in urban areas. Such inequalities had been going on for more than a decade, which is why we created a national strategic report regarding the status of school student allowances, which we presented during multiple meetings with high-level policymakers.

After multiple advocacy efforts, during one of its meetings in December 2020, the Romanian Government approved a decision which stated that all school students must receive a minimum allowance of 100 RON/month, which was a significant step in diminishing the disparities between school students studying in rural versus urban areas.

The next big milestone was convincing the Government to include the necessary funds for this measure in the national budget for 2021. We geared up the public pressure, by organising school student-led protests and online messaging campaigns targeting politicians, therefore bringing more visibility to this issue. After multiple subsequent technical meetings with Government officials, over 100 million Euros were included in the national budget, earmarked for school student allowances. Therefore, over 650.000 Romanian school students benefited from this measure, which couldn’t have happened without the effort of the Romanian National School Student’s Council.

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?

Both the most beautiful, as well as the most challenging aspects of the European Youth Forum being the organisation that it is, would be that, as a platform, we represent both our member organisations, as well as the voice of young people at the European level - which comes with significant amount of responsibility to be as inclusive and representative as possible - both internally, within our governance structures, as well as in our external work.

Internally, my plan is to initiate a structured dialogue to identify any potential barriers which might hinder a young person from feeling empowered enough to be able to fully participate in all of the actions of the European Youth Forum, including, but not limited to, taking part in our events, running for elections, contributing to the internal policy processes in the organisation etc. The purpose of this internal reflection process is to co-create, alongside the membership of the platform, a roadmap which will guide our efforts. as a platform, to become more inclusive and to tear down structural barriers.

Externally, when it comes to being more representative as an organisation, I believe that the YFJ can play a very important role in the process of fostering a Young European identity for all young people across Europe. The YFJ needs to be a beacon of youth representation to which young people across Europe can look up knowing that there is an organisation which fights for their rights and defends their rights at the European level and in which they can, through our member organisations, participate and make their voices heard.

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?

Since the last treaty change, in 2009, the European Union has changed fundamentally; our societies have changed fundamentally. I think it is time for the treaties to reflect that as well. I strongly believe that when the treaty change process will move on to the next step, it needs to follow the ordinary revision procedure laid out in the TEU, in order to ensure that citizens, through their elected MEPs, as well as civil society organisations, can have a say in the process of reshaping the fundamental treaties of the EU.

My belief is that the European Union of the future should have stronger human rights protection mechanisms, more robust mechanisms for the democratic participation of citizens, in general, and young people, in particular, as well as an accentuated influence in fields such as youth policy, education and social policy.

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

I am not entirely sure young people are disillusioned with traditional political structures and parties, because that would entail them having been engaged in these structures and then deciding that such forms of participation are not up to par with their expectations. Rather, the situation we find ourselves in right now is that young people are not engaged in such structures to begin with and have no means of meaningfully engaging in structured participatory processes, which would allow them to share their views and ideas on the topics which matter to them.

I think, therefore, that the main way in which we need to address the lack of youth engagement, rather than youth disillusionment is by advocating towards political parties and institutions to create more spaces for youth organisations and young people to become engaged, as well as by ensuring that young people develop the skills they need in order to meaningfully participate in those democratic processes - to go out and vote, to campaign, to run for office and so on. For the latter, it’s very important that youth organisations represent, in many cases, spaces where young people build skills for democratic citizenship, they develop and learn how to be active citizens; this is why youth engagement cannot happen without strong youth organisations, which are supported to carry out their work.

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

Hmm, I will go out on a limb and make two recommendations - my book recommendation is ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ by Joan Didion and the movie I would strongly, strongly recommend, is the 2018 movie ‘On the basis of sex’. Both of them are truly fantastic lessons of strength, vulnerability and the importance of being true to yourself and to those around you, no matter what.

Thank you for the interview

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