Youth involvement on a local level: Municipal Youth Councils

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Mr. Giorgos Athanasias, a medical student in the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece. He is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

The political world is opening up to the younger generation and the need for participation of the youth in decision making is more apparent than ever. This was quite apparent in the recent 71st session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe, where interventions and statements from Non-State Actors like IFMSA, as well as supportive comments and remarks from the WHO Regional Director and the state representatives, highlighted the importance of meaningful youth engagement, especially regarding health policies. Therefore, in this context, I would like to present a concrete example, as a best practice, of how to achieve inclusion of the youth in decision making.

In Larissa, Greece, this September marked the end of the first term of the Municipal Youth Council. It was established by the City Council as an advisory body to the Municipality and, as the name suggests, its members were representatives of youth-led and youth-focused NGOs, organizations, and bodies, as well as young people selected by sortition. In the field of health policy, the Committee on Health and Social Welfare, often in collaboration with others, could call for action based on the youth’s stance on health issues through motions proposed to the General Assembly.

The Council had the capacity to function as a semi-autonomous body, by developing projects, organizing campaigns, and establish collaborations, but the most crucial part of its function was that, through its institutional structure, it provided the ability for its General Assembly to have its resolutions appended to the agenda of the City Council meetings. Thus, the voice of all its members, youth representatives of the local society, could actually initiate dialogue and influence decision-making at the municipal level, acting as a powerful advocacy platform.

In terms of outcomes, on the one hand, as far as health topics are concerned, we managed to organize local actions in collaborations with hospitals and NGOs, we adopted and delivered statements regarding the role of the youth in major health issues like the COVID crisis, and most importantly we directly influenced the local policy on environment and health topics. On the other hand, admittedly we didn’t reach our full potential, due to having no history as a body to draw experience from, the lack of concrete and thorough enough bylaws, and the difficulties that came with the pandemic.

All in all, Municipal Youth Councils, as institutions embedded in the local governance mechanisms, have the innate potential to increase youth participation in politics at a municipal level. By providing an influential platform for advocacy, especially as augmented by networking and collaboration, and an established operational context that enables direct interference with the local legislature procedures, they are an attainable way to include youth in local decision making, empowering them to be actors of change and to practically implement their notion of the future.

About the author

Giorgos Athanasias is a medical student in the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece. He is a Local Officer for Human Rights and Peace for the term 2020/21 in HelMSIC, a National Member Organization of the International Federation of Medical Students Associations – IFMSA. Furthermore, he was the Vice-Coordinator of the Rights and Democracy Committee of the Municipal Youth Council of Larissa.

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