9.3 Exchanges between young people and policy-makers on global issues
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Within the scope of formal and informal opportunities for young people to reach decision-makers with their opinions, there are certain activities aimed at supporting structured dialogue, namely EU initiatives for consulting with young people the most important directions for youth policy. According to the assumptions of these initiatives, the consulting process takes place at three levels: regional, national and European. EU debates with young people are organised, for instance, during the cyclic European Youth Weeks, wherein young people discuss the future, and the problems and challenges of the European Union with officials, politicians and experts. Structured dialogue activities in Poland are coordinated by the Polish Council of Youth Organisations (Polska Rada Organizacji Młodzieżowych An opportunity for dialogue with decisionmakers is also provided by the Children and Youth Parliament, which has been operating since 1994 and was the first such initiative in Europe. The Parliament’s goal is to promote parliamentarianism among young people. During most terms of office so far, the main topics have had little relation to global problems, tending to focus on national ones. There have been, nonetheless, some notable exceptions, for instance Europe, a dialogue of cultures (2002), Ecology, a choice for the future (2006) and My country in the face of globalisation processes. In recent years, there has been a notable tendency towards turning away from the issues of the future (and global matters) and towards the past and local, country matters (e.g. Sites of memory - material heritage of crucial events for local and national community in 2016, Parliament Members of the Second Polish Republic, their fates and activities during the Second World War and Occupation in 2019). The term of office is one year, and the only session in the year is held on 1 June, Children’s Day. In 2018, there were some significant changes in this respect, the session was moved to September due to the ongoing strike of parents of disabled children. Due to a grass-roots protest, some of the participants of the the Children and Youth Parliament held their session outside of Sejm (on the grounds of the University of Warsaw). The 2020 sessions was called off due to concerns around the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Ultimately, the tools for dialogue with decision-makers on local level, are the municipal youth councils described in section 9.1.
In the autumn of 2019, a Council for Dialogue with the Younger Generation (Rada Dialogu z Młodym Pokoleniem), was created, as a result of the update to the Act on Public Benefit and Volunteer Work (Ustawa o działalności pożytku publicznego i o wolontariacie) from July 2019. The Council is an advisory body for the chairman of the Committee for Public Benefit. It’s task is to provide opinions on acts and programmes that are relevant to the matters of the young people. It is also meant to support actions aimed at raising the level of civic participation among the young people. The Council consists of the representatives of various parts of the Government (of president, prime minister and some ministers), of the local governments, NGO and NGO alliances working with the young, and of youth municipality councils. In autumn of 2020, the position of Government’s Commissioner for Youth Politics (Pełnomocnik Rządu ds. Polityki Młodzieżowej), with the Commissioner having the position of a Vice-Secretary of State in the Chancellery of the Prime Minister. The main duty of the Commissioner is to coordinate the dialogue between government agencies and other partners in regards to youth politics, and to create a strategic document outlining the national youth policy. Youth councils function at some ministries, for example the Children and Youth Council at the Ministry of National Education, (Rada Dzieci i Młodzieży RP przy Ministrze Edukacji Narodowej) created in 2016. The Council is meant to give opinion and ideas relevant to matters of children and youth in the field of education and raising awareness of government action. In 2020, a Youth Council on Climate (Młodzieżowa Rada Klimatyczna) was created at the Ministry of Climate and Environment, tasked with giving opinions on government policy in the field of climate and energy policy. At the same ministry a Youth Ecological Council (Młodzieżowa Rada Ekologiczna przy Ministrze Środowiska) was also established to give opinion on government policy in the field of forestry and hunting, and especially “showcasing views on planned policy, strategy and legal changes, and creating and popularizing attitudes of community engagement in the field of forestry and hunting among young people, with attendants increasing their knowledge of those fields.”
Ultimately, the tools for dialogue with decision-makers on local level, are the municipal youth councils. Those councils can be created on the basis of article 5b of the Act on municipal government, (introduced in an update in 2001), which allows for a creation of such a council based on a petition of the local youth. In 2018, the parliament voted down an amend that would make those councils mandatory in each municipality. The 2021 amendment also did not introduce that obligation. In 2021, acts on commune, county and voivodeship self-government have all been amended, as well as the activities of voluntary services and public benefit organizations (ustawa o samorządzie gminnym, ustawę o samorządzie powiatowym, ustawę o samorządzie wojewódzkim oraz ustawę o działalności pożytku publicznego i o wolontariacie). Those amendments have improved the previous legal framework on youth councils, introduced the possibility to establish them on county and voivodeship levels, and have endowed them with new, specific powers. Those changes have been enacted as a part of the European Union’s Youth Strategy 2019-2027, which involves supporting the participation of young people in civic and democratic life. At the end of 2017 there have been 408 municipal youth councils in Poland (for about 2500 total municipalities in the country), which would mean that about 16% of municipalities have one. The bigger the municipality, the more likely it is to have a council - such councils function in almost 32% of urban municipalities, but only in 8% of rural ones. It is worth noting that in the Parliament, a task group for supporting municipal youth groups has been functioning since 2016.
Grassroots youth groups that are parts of global initiatives for climate are also present in Poland. Youth Climate Strike (Młodzieżowy Strajk Klimatyczny) is a social movement that is a part of the Fridays for Climate initiative. The group opposes the passivity of politicians in the face of the climate catastrophe and demands immediate action. It conducts protests, provides education and establishes communication with politicians. Meanwhile Extinction Rebellion is a part of a global grassroots movement which, through direct civil disobedience action, seeks to stop the mass extinction and climate crisis. An important demand of the movement is a creation of a Citizen’s Assembly which would work towards binding obligations for the country government.
There has also been a number of international events and activities that were, to varying degrees, accessible to by young people in Poland, for example:
- The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012. The outcome document entitled The future we wanthighlighted the importance of the active participation of young people in decision-making processes, as the [addressed] issues [were seen to] have a deep impact on present and future generations and as the contribution of children and youth [was perceived as] vital to the achievement of sustainable development. The conference participants also recognised the need to promote intergenerational dialogue and solidarity by recognising [young people’s] views.
- The United Nations initiative for young people who want to discuss global issues: The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum, an annual conference providing a platform for young people to talk about youth issues and their solutions. During the conferences, young people share their concerns and proposals for solving global problems and engage in political discussions concerning world development. Representatives of Poland do not participate in those conferences.
- The World Youth Report published biannually since 2003 (and, since 2011, based on online consultations with young people), which includes an overview of the major issues of young people worldwide. The importance of youth in the context of sustainable development is constant in documents and actions of the United Nations, eg. in World Youth Reports: 2018: Youth and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development or the newest one 2020: Youth Social Entrepreneurship and the 2030 Agenda.
- Voices of Youth, an online platform for young bloggers from all over the world who want to talk about issues, which are important to them and their environment.
- The Ministry of Foreign Affairs along with the Council for Dialogue with the Younger Generation at the chairman of the Committee of Public Benefit has conducted a competition for the Young Representative of Poland to the UN. The chosen person will participate in the 76th session of the United Nations General Assemble. Poland has been sending youth representatives to attend sessions of the United Nations since 2012.