On the 29th and 30th of January this year, I had the privilege, along with a few other young representatives, to attend the EU Consumer Summit 2020 in Brussels. Having previously been invited to the EU citizens energy forum at the Aviva in September we were invited to participate in this event too. It’s a huge opportunity to have your voice heard on an international level by people working for the EU Commission, journalists, legal advisors, experts, business owners and many more. Being exposed to such incredible and successful people encouraged us to dive into the issues we were discussing and allowed us to learn a lot. Having also been invited to the Climate Summit in Sibiu, Romania last year I cannot emphasise how life changing these experiences are and I would encourage anyone interested to sign up to similar events.
As this event was funded by the EU Commission, it must be noted that all expenses including flights, accommodation and meals were included. This ensures anyone who wants to take part in the event can. This inclusivity is vital as it’s important that there are no barriers to having your voice heard. It also must be said that as a young person you are there to represent young people’s voices. What I mean by this is that your role is to express how you feel as a young person. Your knowledge and experience brings different insights to the event. You do not need to be an expert on any of the topics and you’ll also get a chance to hear the professionals own insights too. It’s important to identify problems in your country so we can work on them and find solutions to them.
During the first day we opened the summit with five experts on a panel who were all asked the same question “how will consumer policy contribute to the future priorities of the EU?” Answered by Darko Horvat, Gerd Billen, Petra de Sutter, Christian Verschueren and Monique Goyens they all shared an emphasis on consumer protection and safety, risks and opportunities of online shopping and the application of the green new deal.
The panelists encouraged us to look at different perspectives which I found fascinating. For example, Christian Verscheren, the Director General of Eurocommerce gave us a great insights into the online market and restrictions to be imposed in parallel with the physical market. Gerd Billen, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection in Germany emphasised the importance of consumer rights relating to recalling products.
Following the panel discussion we moved onto the breakout sessions. These were smaller groups as we were only invited to two out of the possible eight workshops. This made for a more intimate discussions. I chose “Greenwashing” and “consumer information to reduce their carbon footprint” as these interested me the most and I felt confident that I would be able to fully engage in activities about them. In circles of about six/seven we answered questions about our topic after being given a presentation by a guest speaker. The guest speaker in my group was One of which was Markus Terho who is the Director of Sustainable life in Finland. I was really grateful to learn more about the initiatives that have worked in Finland to improve consumer sustainability.
The group’s nominated leader then presents their answers to the rest of the participants. Personally I will always try my best to be the leader as not only is it an opportunity to develop my own skills but it also encourages young people to have their voice heard. It also emphasises that you’re passionate and serious about participating which stands out.
The next day we were divided into groups again but for the same discussions. This time the questions were broader. We discussed how education, EU policies (regulatory or non-regulatory) and resources should be implemented into EU countries to ensure vulnerable people are not left behind. We also talked about how early education can have a positive impact on children.
Between sessions throughout the two days we were able to connect with the other people to talk about the event and get to know each other, or, get offered a job, internship or project. The opportunities are endless at these events as you never know who you’ll meet or how much you may get out of it. Travelling to Brussels for it made it even more special and we didn’t rest a second so that we could explore as much as we could. It has to be said that a strong bond does form between the people you go to international events with as you’re all growing and experiencing incredible moments together.
I would recommend similar events to anyone who has an interest in standing up for what you believe in, politics, and connecting with inspiring people.