In October 2016, Mogherini announced “a new initiative for Young Mediterranean Voices”, which would bring young Med leaders to EU headquarters in Brussels to “start a conversation and bring about real change”, to shape policies, to listen and to define actions to follow suit. This meeting today with 36 young civil society actors from 16 different countries from the Middle East and North Africa and the EU is a fulfilment of this commitment and marks the beginning of a long term and sustainable process of exchange and action.
Following preparatory discussions among the youth on Wednesday, expectations were high for the meeting with the EU's top diplomat in a discussion moderated by Shada Islam (Friends of Europe) and Aissam Benaissa (Young Med Voices), which took place at the European External Action Service today. As one participant, Esmat Elsayed, from Egypt, put it: "The most important skill we've learned through debating is to put ourselves in someone else's place. Today we want to give you [Ms Mogherini] the opportunity to see our perspective."
In a frank and honest discussion, participants used the opportunity to share personal experiences, identify common challenges, and suggest concrete solutions and areas for actions. Aissam Benaissa, an Algerian activist and founder of the Young Arab Voices in Algeria, underlined: "We cannot understand these issues from a European perspective only, or equally, from an Arab perspective only, rather we need to have an active dialogue across and within societies."
Participants stressed that dialogue is not only an essential part of understanding each other, but crucially gives people a stake and place in society. Anas Talalqa from Jordan pointed to the fact that a large part of the population in the Middle East and North Africa is younger than 30, but feels isolated from political processes. They also explained that current education curricula are not always relevant to the current socio-economic realities and aspirations of young people which can compound the feeling of disempowerment.
Offering solutions to current challenges facing societies in the region, the young representatives spoke of opening "new channels of communication between the generations and across the Mediterranean", as Aissam Benaissa suggested, and expanding cooperation within the Erasmus+ programme, supporting cultural mobility or through the "promotion of critical thinking" in schools and educational systems, as Anas Talalqa from Jordan advocated.
Looking ahead, the young Mediterranean voices and High Representative were united in their determination to create and deepen spaces for exchange, to ensure the involvement of all parts of society, particularly young people, in political decision-making processes. As Mogherini stressed, this dialogue does not represent a concession from policy-makers to young people, rather it is a responsibility of policy makers: to listen, but also to create new pathways for young people to get involved in the present, and not just the future. Christian Scharling from Denmark said, "we want to give concrete examples and common positions that you could take with you and bring to future meetings".
Now "you go back home, first of all, keep the contacts among you, second, imagine common projects you can do across the borders, come up again with new ideas, spread locally the ideas, the impressions, even the anecdotes you have lived through this experience and follow up in concrete terms," concluded Mogherini.