Participants to the European Youth Forum expressed outrage at the way the EU Bulgarian Presidency organised an EU-sponsored youth event last week in Sofia, pointing out at perfunctory approach, sheer mismanagement and inappropriate behavior of government officials.
At the EU Youth Conference organised in Sofia by the Bulgarian EU Presidency on 17-19 April, young people and policymakers met to discuss how to improve the lives of young Europeans.
In an article by Sarantis Michalopoulos published by EURACTIV today, Luis Alvarado, the President of the European Youth Forum, is quoted as saying that what happened in Sofia “was far from that reality, destroying the work of generations before us and disregarding young people at all cost”.
“This conference was an out-of-the-book example of what youth participation is not. Europe is a global example and inspiration for the rest of the world of what is possible when it comes to the empowerment of young people – because we have built it the hard way. And this conference has undermined and put in danger all of this”, Alvarado told EURACTIV.
“There was no young and European elected representatives on any panel of discussion of the conference […] is this what they mean by fighting for youth empowerment,” Alvarado asked a rhetorical question. He added that the Bulgarian government adopted a top-down, perfunctory and condescending approach.
Alvarado pointed out a number of shortcomings in the organisation of the conference, claiming that the Bulgarian Presidency wanted to change every process that was used in the past events of this type.
“The aim of these conferences is to reach out to groups of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. A key instrument to achieve that is to ensure they don’t have to put money from their own pockets to participate”, he said.
Alvarado explained that tor the first time in the history of this process, young people had to buy their flight tickets by themselves – in the past this was done by the relevant national government, given that this expense is covered by European Commission funds. “Young people are worried over their reimbursements and these new practices which put more obstacles”, he said.
Every six months, the EU executive provides the host member state a grant to organise the youth conferences.
“Why was this time different? There were young people who struggled to afford a ticket […] it’s a practical detail but showcases how ‘seriously’ young people are taken,” he added.
Free alcohol, half-naked women
Alvarado complained that free hard alcohol was offered at the conference and that the drinks prevented some of the participants from being in shape for the next morning working session.
More shockingly, he said that even though there was a session during the conference about gender equality and young women empowerment, at night there was a party at which “half-naked” women danced on tables, which he called “unacceptable” and “a clear indication of patriarchal stereotypes being promoted within our Union”. This clearly disturbed many of the young leaders and government representatives, he said.
“It’s outrageous that EU public money has been spent in this way. This is not the EU the young people I represent are fighting for”, Alvarado said.
He also said that young people were frustrated with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, who according to them in his speech, urged young people not to forget their first duty of nature to procreate, using the example of a German minister who has 7 children. “Easy for him who is not part of the first generation that will be worst off than their parents”, commented Alvarado.
In addition, Alvarado noted that following the conference, Bulgarian government officials badmouthed youth representatives on social media, who “dared” to criticise the organisation of the conference. He added:
“They realised their mistake and started deleting their posts.”
Contacted by EURACTIV, Raycho Raychev, Vice-President of the Bulgarian Youth Council, confirmed Alvarado’s claims about the lack of youth participation in the panels, adding that there were also debates without any interaction with the participants.
He also complained that the flight tickets issue caused accessibility difficulties for participants.
But he went a step further: “It is crucial to highlight that the Ministry forced the volunteers to stand up and applaud after our Prime Minister’s speech, also written questions were given by the Ministry to some of the participants for the Citizen dialogue with the Commissioner.”
He noted that the Bulgarian youth council faces the same attitude from the government in its everyday work, as the Ministry of Youth and Sports in Bulgaria excluded it from the planning, co-management and the evaluation process during the Presidency.
“Deaf people were included in the event but and no accessible and inclusive environment was provided to them for the whole time.”
“While the results were concluded till 3 am and the DGs from Estonia and Austria worked hard on them, the Ministry representatives were at the conference party, in a club with female go-go dancers. I could say that the Ministry is having a fancy way to promote our Youth Goal of gender equality.”