5.3 Youth representation bodies
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The Youth parliament at national level(Jugendparlament)
At invitation of the President of the National Council, a Youth Parliament is held regularly in the Austrian Parliament in Vienna. The Youth Parliament wants to make democratic decision-making processes comprehensible for young people and give them a deeper understanding of parliamentary processes. The youth parliament meets twice a year to discuss on different subjects to familiarise young people with democratic decision-making processes.
Based on the lowered voting age of 16, pupils of the 9th grade of all school types from the province of the current presidency of the Federal Council can apply for the participation in the youth parliament. A jury selects the most creative entries to the question ‘What does democracy mean to you and your classmates?’ Organisation and costs for travel, accommodation, and catering for the pupils and accompanying teachers are borne by the parliamentary directorate.
The youth parliament is funded by the state. It has no direct impact on decision making. In March 2017, about 110 pupils were able to take the chance to be part of the youth parliament. In 2020, the 'youth parliament' was held digitally due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the beginning of the Youth Parliament Day, the participants are divided into four fictitious clubs. Each of the clubs works out its position on a legislative proposal, elects a chairperson and decides which persons will represent the club in the committee deliberations. In the subsequent committee meeting, they try to reach an agreement with the representatives of the other clubs. The a plenary session is held. In order to make it easier to work out compromises, MPs and staff are available to offer advice and support.
Local youth parliaments
In the municipality of Villach(province of Carinthia), young people aged 14 to 19 can stand as candidates for the local ‘Youth Council’ (Jugendrat), provided they live or study/train in Villach. They are elected by their peers, who can vote in schools and youth centers. Youth Council elections take place every two years. In 2019, almost 1000 young people from Villach elected their representatives to the Youth Council. The model of co-determination has been in existence since 1997. The Youth Council has the right to speak in the Municipal Council and is consulted in an advisory capacity on issues relevant to young people in the various committees. Villach was the first city in Austria to have such a body. A trend sports facility and festivals are among the many projects implemented. The Youth Council is a way of taking the concerns of our young citizens seriously and involving them in many issues, thus letting them have a say in shaping the future.
In the local youth parliament called ‘word up!’ (in German)young people can make requests and demands to the district council and may become involved in their implementation. word up! exists in the districts Leopoldstadt, Alsergrund, Simmering, Brigittenau and Liesing in Vienna. This initiative is funded by the City of Vienna. In workshops, plenary sessions, inspections, and other events the pupils of the 7th and 8th grades develop their proposals, discuss them with the district leaders and representatives of the responsible municipal departments and implement the projects.
The Federal Youth Representation Act (Bundes-Jugendvertretungsgesetz), which redefined youth co-determination at federal level, came into force on 1 January 2001.
Based on the Act, the Austrian Federal Youth Council (Bundesjugendvertretung - BJV) is the body which legally represents young people in Austria and comprises Austrian children's and youth organisations, 56 ordinary and three extraordinary members in 2021, which have very varied goals and ideological backgrounds. The member organisations range from those based in political parties and churches to representatives of open youth work and ethnic groups and minorities, pupil’s and students’s representatives, and also include the provincial youth advisory committees. This diversity guarantees that the interests of young people are represented on a very broad basis. Every youth organisation fulfilling the criteria of the statutes (German only) can become a member of the Youth Council.
As the legal representative of Austrian young people, the Council is empowered to have a say in all important political decisions,and has the same status as the other legal representational groups (e.g. employees, traders, farmers or senior citizens).Therefore, the Council has the status of a social partner regarding youth issues and thus takes part in political negotiations on behalf of young people. The Council also networks internationally, among others as an active member of the European Youth Forum.
The plenary assembly of all members takes place at least once a year. Within this, the executive board is elected. The management board consists of 4 chairpersons (presidency team), a maximum of eight other board members, as well as the full-time managing director with consultative voice. The members of the management board may not be older than 30 years. The management board meets at least 8 times per year. Its functional period amounts to two years. Anyhow, the functional period lasts up to the new election of a management.
The Federal Youth Council develops co-operation, alliances and projects supporting young people and is working on the following fields of action:
- Education and work (education, employment and non-formal education)
- Youth and politics (participation, international affairs, citizenship education, anti-fascism)
- Children and youth (child rights, protection of minors, sexual health and reproductive rights, volunteering, housing, sustainability, health, military/civil service)
- Equality (girls/women, gender mainstreaming, social and distributive justice, diversity/anti-discrimination, inter-generational justice)
The Council is funded by its members, the state and donations.
Youth councils at regional and local level
In the Federal provinces, some youth councils exist that are to consult and advise the regional governments and the youth departments. The federal states decide whether the consultation is compulsory. Such regional youth councils exist in the provinces Burgenland, Lower Austria, Salzburg, Styria, Upper Austria, Vienna and Vorarlberg. The councils consist of representatives of youth organisations.
On a local level, youth councils exist in various cities and municipalities and districts of Vienna.
The Austrian National Union of Students' federal body of Representatives (Österreichische Hochschüler_innenschaft Bundesvertretung, ÖH) is the legal representative of all students to the competent ministries. Students in Austria are internally represented on 3 different levels where representatives advocate for their interests.
The Austrian Students' Union is the statutory general students' representative body in Austria and serves as the students' government by federal law. It is a member of European Students' Union. The statutes of the ÖH are regulated in the Federal Students’ Union Act (Hochschülerinnen- und Hochschülerschaftsgesetz, 2014).
Membership in the ÖH is compulsory for every university student in Austria, including PhD candidates. Each student has to pay a contribution of € 20.20 per semester to the Student’s Union, the payment is required for continued enlistment at university.
The Austrian National Union of Students is striving to act as the students’ political representation as well as to improve the everyday situation of students through numerous services. Therefore they provide information on different subjects on the website which helps students with the life at and beyond university. The ÖH is elected every two years by all students directly and forms the mouthpiece of the students versus the colleges and politics.
The Austrian student union is made up of three levels: study course representations (representatives of the field of study), the university representations (representation of a whole college) and the federal representation (Austria-wide representation).
The Students' Union offers free counselling and numerous other services to facilitate a smooth and pleasant run at the University and provides an overview of student life. A brief overview of some of the services and projects rendered by the Austrian National Union of Students:
- Bulletin board (Schwarzes Brett) - Jobs, Internships and Rental postings
- Progress - Magazine of the National Students’ Union
- Student Union Helpline
- Fem-Queer funding pool (Fem-Queer Fördertopf)
- Funding for special projects (Sonderprojekte)
- Accommodation funding pool (Heimfördertopf)
- ÖH- Social Fund
- Platform for studies "Studienplattform". An Information Portal for all the fields of study in all the different Universities and Academic Institutions in Austria
- Students' Union newsletter (ÖH Newsletter)
- Text message reminder service (SMS Erinnerungsservice)
- ÖH insurance (Versicherung)
- Platform try to study "Studieren Probieren"
- QueerFeminist Library (Queer_feministische Bibliothek) - Collection of feminist and queer books, Comics, Magazines and DVDs
ÖH at federal level
The federal representation (Bundesvertretung) represents all students at universities, private universities, advanced technical colleges and educational colleges throughout Austria. On the national level the main tasks are negotiations with the federal government and particularly the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research, representation on the international level (like in ESU, the Bologna follow-up Group or Eurodoc), public relations and lobbying, campaigning, networking, involvement in social movements like ASF (Austrian Social Forum) and ESF, and support of the Students Union at University level. Furthermore, ÖH has to be consulted any time regarding all laws that affect students. 55 representatives of the federal representation are elected directly every two years in the course of the ÖH elections. They form the legislative power within the arrangement ÖH and meet twice per semester.
The ÖH has established a number of committees:
- Committee on educational policy
- Committee on equalization questions
- Committee on international matters
- Committee on special projects
- Committee on social politics
- Committee on economic matters
All meetings of the committees, except those of the economic committee, are publicly accessible. The committees mostly meet before the meetings of the federal representation and deal with the content subject areas, work out applications and serve as preparation for meeting of the federal representation. Within the committees, a chairperson, as well as their substitution which report on the meeting of the federal representation, is elected in each case.
For the examination of the performance of the Austrian student union, a controlling commission is installed which consists of fourteen members. The economic consultant has to file a report to the controlling commission.
In Austria, pupils’ representation is legally protected and anchored in the Pupils' Representation Act (Schülervertretungengesetz). Representatives act on three levels, the school level, the regional level and the national level.
The Federal Pupils' Representative Council (Bundesschülervertretung, BSV) is the legally elected body representing the interests of pupils in Austria and is reconstituted every year at the beginning of school. The BSV consists of 29 members - the 27 regional school representatives and the 2 representatives of the central educational institutions. All members are pupils and work on a voluntary basis. At the beginning of each school year, the national school spokesperson and the divisional spokespersons for the coming school year are elected from among them. The task of the BSV is to highlight and represent the interests of the pupils vis-à-vis politicians, especially the Ministry of Education.
In each secondary school, pupil representatives are elected. The representatives are part of the school’s statutory elected panel (Schulgemeinschaftsausschuss) of teachers, parents and pupils at Austrian secondary schools. The first three pupil’s representatives are eligible to vote alongside three teacher representatives and three parental representatives. The panel is the most important committee of the school life - many important questions such as the house order or school-autonomous regulations are decided here. In addition, the head pupil’s representative has the right to give his vote in the election of the representation in the province or can be elected on this level. The rights of the pupil's representation are extensive and reach from convoking a meeting of class representatives to the right of participation in staff meetings and disciplinary conferences, hearings and speech contributions.
Federal State level
The provincial pupil's representations in Austria is formed from three school types, the general secondary schools (allgemeinbildende höher Schulen, AHS), vocational middle and secondary schools (berufsbildende mittlere und höhere Schulen, BMHS) as well as the vocational schools (Berufsschulen, BS). For every school type, four to eight members (according to size of the federal state) and the same numbers of substitutes are elected once a year. The head representatives are actively entitled to vote for their respective school type. They and the first two substitutes can be candidates for this election. The provincial pupil's representations consist of three head representatives and further nine to 21 other members as well as twelve to 24 substitute members. This body is entitled torepresent the pupil’s interests vis-à-vis the state parliament and the province school board.
The three head provincial pupil’s representatives are entitled to take part in the election to the federal pupil's representation. In most cases, teams of the two country-wide represented Austrian pupil's organisations, lit. the action of critical pupils (Aktion kritischer Schülerinnen und Schüler, AKS) and the pupil's union (Schülerunion, SU) run for election. Both are financed by the corresponding political parties.
The federal pupil's representation consists of three provincial pupils’ representatives of each of the nine Austrian federal states as well as two representatives of the central teaching institutions (Zentrallehranstalt, ZLA), a total of 29 members. These elect among themselves a federal head as well as a speaker for each school type (AHS, BMHS and BS). The federal chairperson is elected for one year and is entitled to take part and to be consulted at negotiations about school topics by the Federal Minister.
Most youth organisations and NGOs are part of the Austrian Federal Youth Council (Bundesjugendvertretung) and therefore not presented separately. All statutory bodies – the representatives for youth, students, and pupils – have been depicted above.