5.3 Youth representation bodies
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Flanders hasn’t a real youth parliament. However since 2013 on a yearly basis a simulation of the Flemish Parliament for and by young people was organised in the parliamentary benches. More information on this project (Vlaams Jeugdparlement) can be found in 5.7.
Already before the implementation of the EU Youth Strategy, Flanders had Youth Councils (Jeugdraden) at every level of policy-making (apart from the inter-municipality level), in which youth organisations and young people meet to give advice on policy matters.
LOCAL AND PROVINCIAL LEVEL
In the Flemish Parliament Act of 6 July 2012 on supporting and promoting local youth policy and youth work policy (Decreet van 6 juli 2012 houdende de ondersteuning en stimulering van het lokaal jeugdbeleid) it is stated that a local youth council should be established and recognised in view of the organisation of the consultation and the participation of children and young people in the preparation and implementation of youth policy. The youth council advices on all matters relating to youth policy, and in drawing up the multiannual plan.
The following persons are members of the municipal youth council:
- the representative of the interested local youth initiatives which can prove an active functioning or recruitment with regard to children and young people from the municipality;
- interested children and young people from the municipality, co-opted by the youth council
Political representatives cannot be members of the youth council. But, in addition to the members with voting rights there may also observers take part in the youth council. The Alderman of Youth, the municipal councillors or other political representatives and external experts can sit as observers in the youth council, and also the youth counsellor or other municipal officials may take part as observers of the youth council. On average, a local youth council counts 22 members with voting rights.
On average, the general meeting of the youth councils in the municipalities of the Flemish Region takes place 7 times a year. In 62% of the municipalities the youth council works with an executive board. In two third of the municipalities the Youth Council has a memorandum agreement with the municipal administration (n = 273) (Afdeling Jeugd - Departement Jeugd, Cultuur, Sport en Media, 2015)
The Flemish Youth Council (Vlaamse Jeugdraad) is laid down in article 7 of the Parliament Act on Youth and Children’s rights policy (Decreet houdende een vernieuwd jeugd- en kinderrechtenbeleid). The Flemish Youth Council is the official advisory body of the Flemish Government on all matters concerning children and young people.
Every three years the Flemish Youth Council elects a new Assembly, existing of individual young people and representatives of youth organizations. All young people aged 12 to 30 can vote online. The last election took place in November 2020. The Youth Council is composed of 16 members: 8 youth advisers and 8 youth work advisers. At least one third of them has to be younger than 25 at the start of the mandate. Maximum two thirds of the members can have the same gender.
The Youth Council is supported by the ‘Ambrassade’ (https://ambrassade.be), an association recognized and granted by the Flemish Government and also responsible for the development, support and provision of information to the youth sector
The Flemish Youth Council is also supported in its work by the Commission on Youth Work (Commissie Jeugdwerk). It is a monthly meeting thatrepresents all organizations that are recognized and / or subsidized under the Flemish Parliament Act of 2012 on Flemish youth and children’s rights policy (Decreet Vernieuwd Jeugd- en Kinderrechtenbeleid) . The youth work committee is an open meeting but works with a core group of fifteen people elected by name. For its composition it bases itself on the decretal diversity between organizations. This Commission carries out work in support of the youth council. They follow up youth work policies and prepare policy proposals, in which the interests of youth work organizations are reflected, for the General Assembly of the Flemish Youth Council.
Flemish Association of Students (Vlaamse Vereniging van Studenten)
The non-profit organisation Flemish Association of Students (VVS) is the umbrella organization of student councils of the Flemish universities and colleges and defends the interests of the students in Flanders and Brussels. The VVS defends students' rights in a broader context of democratization of education. This means that for VVS everyone, whatever their socio-cultural background (e.g. language delay, age, education, disability, ..) has the right barrier to follow the teachings of his or her choice and talents.
The Flemish Association of Students (VVS) has a dual role. On the one hand they represent the student voice in meetings of advisory bodies, working groups of the Ministry and various other places. This takes place at the Flemish, federal and European level. On the other hand, the VVS supports the student councils, by guiding them through difficulties and questions and providing tools.
Each college or university has his own student council and can join in Flanders the Flemish Association of Students. Dependent on their size, student councils have a number of votes in the General Assemblee which meets at least monthly during the academic year. The General Assembly (GA) elects the Executive Board (EB), which in turn is assisted by a number of executives.
Funding: grants from the Flemish Government.
Flemish Pupil's Umbrella Organisation (Vlaamse Scholierenkoepel)
The Flemish Pupil's Umbrella Organisation or 'VSK' is an association by and for students. It supports pupil councils at secondary schools and represents them in Education Policy making. Together with the Flemish Pupils’ Umbrella Organisation, the Flemish Government evaluated the Flemish Parliament Act on participation in education. Based on this evaluation, a Flemish Parliament Act on the ‘legal position of students in education’ is being developed. In 2016, the VSK also held a consultation process with and by students about the contents of education.
The VSK exists of 30 pupils who govern the organization, five young people in the Board, more than 150 active students who regularly give their opinion on education, and more than 800 pupil councils that are members of VSK. The VSK orients his work to all pupils of secondary education in Flanders and Brussels. A team of ten staff members supports their work.
Funding: grants from the Flemish Government.
The Government of Flanders also funds non-profit organisations and provincial authorities to help develop mechanisms for youth participation and opportunities for debate between public institutions and young people. Important organisations are:
- The 'Ambrassade', embedded in the Flemish Parliament Act of 2012, is responsible for the coordination and development of ‘youth information’ initiatives.
- Bataljong is member organization of cities and municipalities, which main task consists of informing and supporting Flemish cities and municipalities to prepare and implement local youth policy and youth participation. Goal is to strengthen children and young people, politicians and civil servants in implementing more, better and broader local policy for children and young people. In order to achieve this Bataljongconnects, informs and supports youth councils, youth officials and aldermen of youth. Bataljong also promotes the benefits of child and youth-friendly policy at Flemish, federal and European level, while representing the interests of cities and municipalities. In their activitie Today Bataljong can count on a team of 18 employees and has 303 members. With 290 of the 300 local authorities in Flanders that are member, Bataljong can count substantially all Flemish municipalities as members.
- Démos (http://www.demos.be)is a non-partisan public research and advocacy organization. Démos' role has been embedded in the wider cultural field of Flanders by the Participation Decree. They focus on social and policy developments in culture, youth work and sports. Within this focus they publish books and a magazine, organise symposia, work shops, cafés and other gatherings and do research and advise organisations and governments. Démos also contributes to the development of policy and practices that focus mainly on groups and practices that are under-represented and underexposed in our society.