The European Conference on Local Youth Work and Democracy

Judit Balogh has been involved in the youth sector since 2002. She is now employed by JINT, the Belgian/Flemish National Agency (NA) for Erasmus+ Youth and the European Solidarity Corps. In this interview, she tells us more about the results of the Belgian EU Council Presidency for the youth sector.

Can you introduce yourself and your role connected to youth work?

Hello, my name is Judit Balogh, I am the coordinator of the Europe Goes Local project. The project aims to support the development of municipal level youth work in Europe, not in just the programme countries of Erasmus+, but also in the partner countries.

Currently I am coordinating the work in over 30 member countries across the EU, EFTA EEA-countries, Caucasus and Eastern Europe, and South East Europe.

Belgium had the Presidency of the Council of the European Union for the first half of 2024. What did this mean for youth work?

Belgium has traditionally always been putting youth work high on the agenda. This is not just within the country in the national context, but whenever it has a European role. Belgium is an advocate for youth work, youth work policy and youth work development in general.

So, while they had the Presidency from 1st January to 30th June 2024, they wanted to make a focus on youth work. This included producing a policy document on youth work development in Europe, the organising of two large youth policy and youth work policy conferences, a seminar on children and youth policy development, and a meeting of Erasmus+ Youth and European Solidarity Corps National Agency directors.

Belgium is an advocate for youth work, youth work policy and youth work development in general.

Under the Belgian EU Presidency, the Council of EU Youth Ministers adopted a resolution on youth work policy in an empowering Europe. This resolution quotes the final report of the European Conference on Local Youth Work and Democracy (one of the flagship events of the Presidency which took place on 20-23 February 2024 in Brussels) and states: ‘By investing in a robust and long-term local youth work policy, based on intense dialogue and participation, local governments create concrete conditions for the optimal development of local youth work.

Therefore, municipalities need a framework that gives contours and inspiration to create tailor made sturdy local support systems. Member States should invest to shape this framework together with local actors in a pan-European network.’

I was one of the lead organisers of this conference. We brought together more than 300 participants from approximately 40 European countries. The contribution to the resolution came through the discussions that took place throughout the conference.

The Belgian EU Presidency achieved the engagement of a large cross-section of the community of practice for this new European resolution.

Who were the organisers of the conference?

There were two SNACs (SNAC = Strategic National Agency Cooperation) behind the initial idea of the conference. One SNAC is Europe Goes Local, and the other is Democracy Reloading, which is about the local participation of young people.

A SNAC is a partnership of several Erasmus+ NAs and other organisations from the community of practice. Europe Goes Local is led by JINT vwz, the Flemish NA, and Democracy Reloading is led by BIJ (Bureau International Jeunesse) which is the NA for the French speaking part of Belgium.

JINT vzw, as the strategic partner of the Flemish Department for Culture, Youth and Media had a leading role in organising each of the Presidency events that came under youth affairs. Europe Goes Local took the lead in case of the European Conference on Local Youth Work and Democracy.

And who were the participants of this conference?

We aimed for delegations from each Member State of not only the EU but also the Council of Europe. This conference was an official Presidency event, so therefore the ministries responsible for youth of each country were responsible for their official delegation.

The two SNACs already have their respective existing partnerships, so we asked the Ministries to consult with their respective NAs and set up a delegation together. This also involved the partners of the two SNACs as well.

During the conference over 70 examples of local youth work good practices were presented and recorded.

Amongst the participants, we had colleagues from NAs, policy makers from the ministries, municipality representatives, people from youth work umbrella organisation, from youth representative bodies (local and national levels), representatives of local youth work NGOs, and researchers.

As the event focussed on local youth work development, we strongly engaged the local community of practice and local authorities.

The title and the theme of the conference was local youth work and democracy. Why is this topic so important?

There is a stronger and stronger belief that when we develop youth work we need to get as close as possible to the context that it is being delivered in. Local youth work as a term is appearing more and more on the European landscape.

In 2015 at the 2nd European Youth Work Convention, which took place here in Belgium, the final declaration mentioned the importance of local youth work. This declaration invited the sector to create a European Charter on Local Youth Work. Something that would promote the working together of municipalities and local youth work organisations. Over the years this topic has become more and more recognised and important.

Why is it important to link the local level and the European level?

There are many events where local stakeholders can meet each other in the European context but we need to be strengthening and developing these links. We need to be bringing the European aspects closer to the local level but also making sure that the local needs are linked to European developments.

It is a two-way road which we should not forget to highlight and this is why it is necessary to provide different kinds of structures which can strengthen this link in both directions. We need to be bringing the voice of the local level to the European context and transferring European knowledge, possibilities and resources to the local level.

What then were the outcomes of the conference?

I guess the main non-measurable outcome was definitely the networking and the peer learning – this was strongly highlighted in the participants evaluation. The conference report itself is an important outcome, it is on the website of the Presidency.

During the conference over 70 examples of local youth work good practices were presented and recorded. Descriptions of each practice can be found on the website of Europe Goes Local. The examples are being promoted one by one on social media each week, and each month one example is contacted, we make an in-depth interview with the team and the young people, and an article is written and published.

The main outcome though was based on the conference discussions and debates on the main question: ‘What is the need of the participants in terms of local youth work developments and what messages do they have for the European decision makers and the municipal level decision makers?’

The results of these discussions became the biggest outcome because as I mentioned before, some elements of these discussions and conclusions directly contributed to the Council resolution.

(Written by Nik Paddison on behalf of JUGEND für Europa)

Judit Balogh

Judit Balogh has been involved in the youth sector since 2002 working with various youth NGOs in Hungary and the Hungarian National Agency for the EU youth programmes. She is now employed by JINT, the Belgian/Flemish National Agency (NA) for Erasmus+ Youth and the European Solidarity CorpsShe works as the coordinator of the Europe Goes Local project which she has been doing since 2016, when Europe Goes Local was launched