IJAB chose to hold the conference and ceremony to mark its fifth decade in prestigious surroundings, although the location, as head of the Hamburg state representation office Steffen Hebestreit put it in his welcome speech, is "not only the most beautiful, but also the most modest," in the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg. Alluding to Russia and Turkey, Hebestreit talked about the uncertainties faced in modern-day international relations – a topic that IJAB Chairman Lothar Harles also picked up on in his opening words. In light of growing isolationism and military conflict, he said, it was becoming ever more difficult to "equip young people with the tools they need to be citizens of the world, citizens of Europe."
This year marks 50 years since the former Federal Youth Ministry launched IJAB, so it was fitting that Caren Marks, the Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, opened the conference. Marks praised IJAB for its work in international youth exchange and reiterated the importance of youth exchange as a cornerstone of European cohesion and peaceful co-existence: "For 50 years, IJAB has helped to make European borders something that no longer divide us, but which unite us."
"It is with growing concern that we watch the decisions being made in other countries in Europe in response to increasingly violent attacks on European unity while anti-European parties and initiatives gain ground. Events like this IJAB conference demonstrate that there is still a strong, tight-knit network of dialogue, contact and exchange that holds Europe together. This is good, because Europe needs rational actions. Here, today, we will talk about what is needed in youth work to keep Europe united," said the Parliamentary State Secretary.
Anyone planning to develop international youth work prospects in the coming years was advised to listen to the experts who dealt with the future in their work, said Harles, explaining the aim of the conference. Prof. Franz Josef Radermacher is one such expert. As the director of the Research Institute for Applied Knowledge Processing at Ulm University, sustainability strategies are one of his specialist fields. Radermacher didn't give a particularly rosy outlook, saying that every international agreement to avert climate change and promote sustainable economic activity had failed so far. "It's like us all agreeing to make a big pizza together and then only bringing enough ingredients for a small pizza and hoping that nobody notices." But the picture was not completely bleak. Towards the end of his talk, Radermacher called urgently for what he termed "education of the heart." On its own, he said, more education would not save the world – after all, it was the best-educated minds who had brought the world to the brink of ruin with the massive redistribution of wealth and power, bank bail-outs, national debt and austerity measures. This was where formal education reached its limits, he continued, saying that "global empathy" was needed to change the world. Radermacher received spontaneous applause from the active supporters of international youth work.
Europe's youth has little faith in institutions
After Radermacher's speech, the facts and figures presented by Maximilian von Schwartz from the SINUS-Institut came as no surprise. In a first Europe-wide study of its kind – Generation what? – the institute looked into attitudes among young people. The researchers found falling levels of confidence in all institutions, from politics to media and the church. Europe also fared badly in the study – but only a small number would actually like to leave the EU. Europe stood for mobility and peace, but trust in European institutions was low, said von Schwartz. "Europe is useful, but not dear to their hearts," he concluded.
Young guests Emanuelle and Célia from France, Ria from Finland and Mio from Germany took to the stage to discuss the study and were also unsurprised by the results. "Politics are scary, politicians are scary," said Ria. These people looked down on young people and expected to be looked up to, she added. Young people want to have friends in other countries. They would like to see additional events that allow them to understand more about other people and the realities of their lives, as well as more organisations that make this possible. And they want all young people, with no exceptions, to be able to make use of the opportunity to come into contact with people of the same age from other countries.
Needs for the next decade
Far from being a place to sit back and listen, the conference was all about getting actively involved. Participants split up into groups to discuss how international youth work can be made fit for the future and what is needed to achieve this goal. International youth work must adopt a more youth-friendly style of communication; the topic of Europe must be more closely integrated into day-to-day international youth work; region-specific mobility advisors with all relevant information from a single source are needed; and more support for youth work and more financial security are essential. A comprehensive list of needs was drawn up in just a few hours. The list will be published as part of the conference documentation and will be included in talks with the Federal Youth Ministry and decision-makers over the coming weeks and months.
The issue of financial security for international youth work was tackled briefly in a panel discussion after the workshops, during which representatives from international work organisations discussed the topic with decision-makers from the Youth Ministry and the political arena. They asked: Is the 39-million-euro budget provided by the Youth Ministry for international affairs a little or a lot? "Hamburg is an 'arrival city'," said Dr Herbert Wiedermann from the labour, social affairs, family and integration office of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, "and more young people means, of course, more money." Introducing more initiatives for young people who have not yet been reached by international schemes is a priority for Uwe Finke-Timpe, divisional head at the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth. Two hearts beat in the chest of German Bundestag MP Markus Koob – one for youth policy and one for finance policy. "We are all in agreement that funding is necessary, but the money must be used wisely," said Koob. He appealed directly to the audience: "Instead of sending paperwork, get in touch with us – your MPs – directly so that we can get a much better sense of your work."