Photo 1 by Tim Marshall on Unsplash, Photo 2 Julia Orluk (personal album), Photo 3 Martin Ruemmelein by Paula Graetke

The Younger Side of the Baltic Sea Region

Youth initiatives contributing to the common goals of the EU Strategy of the Baltic Sea Region.

June 12th, 2020

by Marta Czarnecka-Gallas, Let’s Communicate!

I met Julia and Martin for the first time almost two years ago. It was in September, at an Annual Conference of Baltic Sea States Subregional Co-operation (BSSSC) in Gdańsk. For her, it was just the onset of an adventure into the Baltic Affairs. For him, it was a big step forward. At that time Martin was in the middle of his cadency at BSSSC Board as a Baltic Sea Region Youth representative and he had already earned his reputation as an engaged and visionary lad with lots of ideas on the youth empowerment in the Baltic Sea Region.

 

After these almost two years and some personal and online encounters, I talk with Julia and Martin again. It is a very specific time. The Spring is at the full thrust but many in the Baltic Sea Region, Europe and the world still cannot indulge in the simple joys it usually brings. The lockdowns our societies have experienced, the social distancing on a mass scale and numerous limitations to daily life and work have changed our perception of things. It is just before the online Baltic Sea Youth Camp, the initiative which aims to use the power, vision and ideas of the young generations to contribute to a more sustainable EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR).

So how Martin and Julia are doing today? And what has changed in these two years in the youth empowerment and inclusion in the EUSBSR?

 

Full of energy, full of passion

 

‘On a perfect day, I will wake up before my alarm rings at about 6:00, go for a small run, get ready for work, check some social media on the bus and learn some Chinese’- starts Martin. Now a 25-year-old-student of  International Economics and Business Relationships at the University of Southern Denmark. ‘In the office, I really enjoy days on which I meet many of my great colleagues, get to work on challenging tasks and have time to move a meeting to the cafe. After work, I like to go for a longer run, meet up with friends, and cook fresh. I have many hobbies, the first of which is to get politically engaged, but I also go running, love to take photos and be part of the Young European Federalists’. Being active within many different fields is also a feature of Julia. Just like her broad and constant smile, which opens many doors, she knocks at with her ideas. Julia, who is currently a first-year student of International Economic Relations at Gdańsk University and the President of Euroregion Baltic Youth Board, is also a great fan of baking (she brings to our meeting homemade carrot muffins in a quantity that could feed a small army unit) and extreme sports.

 

When you see the passion Julia and Martin speak about the things, which are important for them and hear how they try to change the world around them, it seems clear that having Youth onboard EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region is the key to make it work. ‘The Baltic Sea Affairs include many important issues that will decide, on how we will live in the region in the future- says Martin. ’For example, when discussing sustainability, responsible consumption and production, we can try to avoid polluting the Baltic Sea with too much plastic that will make it impossible to eat fish from the Baltic Sea in the future due to microplastic. Also, we can take action against climate change to do our fair share to ensure that our children can show their grandchildren the beautiful cities along the Baltic coast how I can experience them without extreme weather situations and food insecurities. To young people, this is all much more relevant as they will ask themselves, „in what kind of world do I want to have my future children living in one day?”. The outcome of this question is essential and needs to be taken into account when discussing Baltic Sea topics’. Julia agrees with that completely and confirms that ecology and economy are important issues for the young generations. ‘I come from Gdańsk and I am very proud of my city because of its long and inspiring history. I also observe how much Gdansk has benefitted from international cooperation, exchange of experiences and knowledge transfer. This proves that the whole Baltic Sea Region will be better off while acting together’. While being active in the Baltic Affairs, Julia got more sensitive to environmental issues and is a great advocate of sustainable development goals. She would explain to her grandmum why resigning from meat can contribute to a cleaner planet and with an unhidden satisfaction observes some changes in her diet in this respect. She helps her neighbours to understand the philosophy behind garbage segregation and inspire her parents to ask in a restaurant whether the potatoes on their plates come from a local farm. ‘For me, the realization of the SDGs simply means becoming a better person’, she concludes.

 

Youth involvement in the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region

 

There is much scope for Youth involvement in the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. ‘I firmly believe that the Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region can empower Youth to be more active’, claims Martin. ’However, this will not just happen on its own. We need to implement structures, where the Youth governs. The Baltic Sea Youth Camp, the Baltic Sea Youth Platform and the Baltic Sea Youth Declaration are a good start. Now we need to ensure that they get a fixed role in the EUSBSR, and take care that it is the Youth that governs in these initiatives.’ Julia underlines that the Youth cannot be only a nice adding to the picture. ‘We don’t want to be invited to the discussion because it’s cool to have a hashtag #Youth or similar while twitting from a conference. At one event I participated, young people were asked to present their statement but it even wasn’t brought up by the moderator. No one reacted to what we said. We felt completely ignored and this is very demotivating’. Such practices certainly won’t earn youth engagement. ‘In debates, we need to understand that young people are not better scientists but should be able to advocate their values and ideas and point of view to the discussion’, Martin adds and continues: ‘In my opinion, we do not need a culture in the EUSBSR were everyone nods and agrees to everything that the Youth proposes, and forgets about it a minute later. We need a culture where proposals of the Youth are critically discussed on the same eye-level. For this, we need a fixed role of the Youth in the EUSBSR. There are many ways that this is possible.’

 

The institutional culture of the Baltic Sea Region favours active citizenship. Numerous organizations from very local to transnational allow for youth involvement in various projects. The first step into being young activists on an international scale for both Julia and Martin was taken during their school years. That is why they strongly support initiatives like the Baltic Sea Youth Camp or Baltic Sea Youth Platform, dedicated to young people in their secondary and tertial education. ‘When we drafted the concept for this in Gdansk last year, we stated clearly, that it needs to be governed by the Youth, and that it should not be a one time project’, Martin explains. ‘If the Youth is not enabled to drive the platform further and ensure continuous funding, then we will not see the Youth making a significant impact. I think we can understand the youth platform as a constantly sailing boat. Now we have the sailboat. We need to set the sails, sail to the right harbours to pick up support for continued funding beyond the Erasmus project and give the command to the Youth which can choose which direction to sail and what goods to take along, which are represented by the Contents of the Baltic Sea youth declaration’.

 

Taking the stage at the 10th Annual Forum of EUSBSR in Gdańsk with their Declaration elaborated at the first Baltic Youth Camp, the young people in the Baltic Sea Region showed that they are engaged and they want to be involved. The Baltic Sea Youth Platform is as a step further and has probably the highest chance to make an impact in the future on the young people empowerment in the Region, being an umbrella for various initiatives (like the Baltic Sea Youth Camp and Baltic Sea Youth Declaration). So let’s keep the fingers crossed for more youth-inspired and youth-led projects and remember that the Youth will only have a voice when it is active.

 

 

For more information please check:

 

Julia Orluk: a first-year student of International Economic Relations at Gdańsk University. Chairwoman of the Euroregion Baltic Youth Board. Member of the Young Diplomats Forum. Youth representative of Pomorskie Region. Passionate about her home city of Gdańsk, baking and a Lhasa Apso dog, called Taker. Addicted to extreme sports. Photo: Julia’s Album

Martin Ruemmelein: currently studying International Economics and Business Relationships at the University of Southern Demark in Sønderborg and writing a thesis about IoT business models in collaboration with Danfoss Drives. Apart from his passion for politics, he is interested in business and digitalization. Former chairmen of the state students board of vocational schools and former board member of the Baltic Sea States Subregional Cooperation. Loves jogging, taking photos and cooking with friends. Photo by Paula Graetke

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