Europe Day commemorates the signing of the “Schuman Declaration” on May 9, 1950. An ambitious plan to secure peace in post-war Europe. On this day in 1950, a group of European countries signed an agreement to cooperate on coal and steel production.
The idea was to merge the economic interests of former World War II adversaries to ensure lasting peace. Economic and trade interdependence would make war between historic rivals like France and Germany “not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible”. This agreement ultimately evolved into the European Union (EU)as we know it today. What began as an economic alliance is now a unique economic and political union of 27 European countries.
This Union represents much more than the world’s largest trading bloc and single market; the EU’s greatest achievement has been to deliver half a century of peace, stability and prosperity.
This year, the importance of working for peace and the founding narrative of the EU has become even more relevant, as we together with our Member States stand united and in solidarity with Ukraine, while war has returned to European soil. The Europe Day that we celebrate today is about the Union we need for the future – how together, we will make stronger and more resilient.
In this endeavour, we cannot forget that the young people have an essential role to play in shaping our vision for a better tomorrow. Both the EU and ASEAN have declared 2022 the “Year of Youth”. The EU seeks the vision, engagement and participation of young people to build a brighter future – greener, more inclusive and digital. ASEAN wants to encourage the youth, as future leaders, to increase their contribution to peace and development, and to take an active role in addressing current challenges.
Over the last two years of the pandemic, young people around the world have made enormous sacrifices, missing out on their schooling and social interactions at a crucial point in their development. Their contribution and their resilience is often overlooked.
They are rightly concerned by a future that seems built on uncertainty and global challenges that threaten their future. Growing inequality, food insecurity, lack of employment opportunities, polarisation and conflict, including in the digital space, and the adverse effects of climate change will likely result in instability – the consequences of which tend to hit children and the young hardest.
It is our obligation to provide the youth with the right tools, to help them build new hopes, confidence and opportunities.
Despite being primary stakeholders in all our futures, young people are left out of policy debates and decisions that may have a direct impact in their lives, as well as repercussions for decades to come. Not only is this short-sighted, as we need to invest in them as future leaders, but we are also missing out on their unique perspectives and creative solutions to the challenges we face.
Around the world, wherever the European Union partners with countries to promote sustainable development, we aim to take youth perspectives into account because investing in, working with, and listening to young people is essential.
Sixty percent of the world’s youth live in Asia, and two-thirds of Cambodians are under 30. This represents an invaluable opportunity to help us reimagine the world through hopeful young eyes, and to find new solutions to the challenges we face.
Throughout the year, as we prepare and design our new cooperation program, we want to draw inspiration from the vision and insights of young people to further strengthen and invigorate our partnership with Cambodia.
We want to encourage young Cambodians to become actors of positive change and to have a say in the design and implementation of our projects. We want to hear from them on the impact our programs may have on their lives, so we can shape them to better suit their needs. We want to listen to their ideas and ambitions on how we can build a better and more sustainable future together.
To this end, we will be celebrating Europe Day with them throughout the month of May and will launch a call to create a Youth Sounding Board, to advise me and the Delegation on how to make our programs more participatory, relevant and effective for young people.
My encounters and experience with the youth of Cambodia reinforce my sense of hope through their optimism and willingness to imagine that another world is possible. To access their potential for change, all we have to do is give them a seat at the table.
Carmen Moreno is EU ambassador to Cambodia