Marking 20th Anniversary of the European Union Enlargement and Promoting Youth Participation in Latvia

From our members

On 1st May 2024, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the largest European Union enlargement. Twenty years ago, on 1st May 2004, the citizens of Cyprus, Czechia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia became citizens of the European Union –marking the European Union biggest enlargement. Overnight, the European Union became a greater political, economic and cultural entity, stretching from Tallinn to Lisbon, from Valletta to Stockholm, and from Dublin to Nicosia. Democracy is precious and important — not only for us today, but for future generations. We should never take democracy for granted. Europe is about embracing differences while ensuring equality of opportunity.

Young people are a major human resource for development and key agents for social change, economic growth, peacebuilding and technological innovations. It is often said: “Youth are our future”. This statement also raises the question ‘’ What currently shapes and influences the future?’’ If you look from a political point of view, the percentage of young people in politics is rather low all over the world.

Participation is a core human rights principle and a basic condition of democratic societies. It cannot be confined to basic voting rights, but must also include all aspects and levels of decision-making processes. Participation is a fundamental right and one of the guiding principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that has been reiterated in many other Conventions and Declarations and is intrinsically linked to quality of life, health and well-being. When each of us exercises our rights to participate and vote, we are not only electing the representatives that will adopt laws affecting everyone, but we are also participating in shaping the future of European democracy. Youth are important drivers of innovation, game changers, and participants in policy processes. Young people can create innovative solutions, volunteer to support people in vulnerable situations and build resilience. Enlargement has created more opportunities for citizens from all Member States to study and work across the European Union. Since 2004, over 2.7 million young people from 10 new countries have participated in Erasmus+program.

Children and youth from the most vulnerable backgrounds especially those who have to spend weeks and months in social and health care institutions face severe social, economic, and civic disparities as compared with their counterparts. Children and youth with mental and physical limitations have the right to participate fully and effectively in decisions that affect their lives. Meanwhile, they are one of the most excluded groups in society, and even under normal circumstances, they are less likely to access education and participate in the local community. Taking into account the specific needs and limitations of the target group, Non-Governmental/Non-Profit organisation ‘’Donum Animus’’ in cooperation with volunteers of the ‘’Creative Workshops’’, European Parliament Office in Latvia, European Commission Representation in Latvia, the European Union House in Riga and educators of the Pedagogical Department of the Children’s Clinical University Hospital in Latvia implemented educational activities for patients at the Children’s Clinical University Hospital in Latvia to raise awareness on the European Union Member States and European values, and the European Parliament elections. Educational activities were designed to encourage young people to participate in democratic life; support social and civic engagement; and ensure that all young people have the ability they need to play an active part in society.

Children and youth from the most vulnerable backgrounds especially those with mental and physical limitations are among the most marginalized and face severe social, economic, and civic disparities as compared with their peers. The majority of them have negative life experiences and suffer from discrimination and bullying due to gender or any other identification including disability.

Participation means that people take an active role in decisions that affect their own lives, their development, and communities. It includes the right to vote, to be elected, to access public service positions and to participate in public affairs. Every voice matters. Young people make up 25% of the European Union population, and their struggles, concerns, and suggestions should be the driving force in policy making processes. Everyone has the power to make a difference and elections have tangible impacts on everyone’s everyday lives. The policies and decisions made by elected officials directly influence access to education, job opportunities, healthcare, and environmental sustainability. The minimum voting age varies by country in the European Union with the lowest being 16 in Austria, Belgium, Germany, and Malta. 17-year-olds can vote in Greece while in all other European Union countries, the voting age is 18. By participating in elections, young people have the power to shape the future they want to see and hold leaders accountable for their promises and actions. Did you know that only 2 Members of the European Parliament (2019–2024) are under 30 — making up just 0.25% ?

Youth active participation is critical to building long-term community sustainability and should be accessible to young people from all backgrounds. Through active participation, young people are empowered to play a vital role in their own development, helping to learn vital life skills and develop knowledge on human rights and citizenship. To participate effectively, young people must be given the proper tools, such as information and education about access to their civil rights.

It is very important to clearly articulate key decision-making principles that capture a rights perspective to support for decision making also young people from the most vulnerable backgrounds, including youth with disabilities:

  • The equal right to make decisions. Persons who require decision-making support must be provided with access to the support necessary for them to make, communicate and participate in decisions that affect their lives. All adults have an equal right to make decisions that affect their lives and to have those decisions respected.
  • Laws and legal frameworks must contain appropriate and effective safeguards in relation to interventions for persons who may require decision-making support, including to prevent abuse and undue influence.
  • People with cognitive disability require significantly more support for decision-making than other adults in the community. Supporting people with cognitive disability to make decisions requires knowledge about and skills in communication with people with varying levels of cognitive disability, self-awareness and reflection, conflict resolution, and the range of potential strategies identified in this study for tailoring support for decision-making to individuals.
  • Collaboration between the different supporters involved in the life of a person with cognitive disability, and strategies to identify others who might potentially become involved in supporting decision making, is essential. Practitioners require an understanding of the differing roles, contexts and challenges confronting different types of supporters. Young people are future, but they are also part of the present, so they must be given the opportunity to participate in shaping the world around them and making decisions.

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Non Govermental/ Non Profit Organisation ‘’Donum Animus’’, Member organisation of DYPALL Network (Developing Youth Participation at Local Level) that aims to involve young people in decision-making processes at local level, and thus enable municipal and regional authorities to address the needs and interests of youth, engage young people as active actors of problem-solving and increase the level of ownership, commitment and involvement of an important part of our communities.

Non-Govermental/Non-Profit Organisation ‘’Donum Animus’’ is the only non-governmental entity from Latvia holding Special Consultative Status of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

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