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Youth Parliament The difficulty of putting forward fresh ideas

Four days of debate, passion, commitment and policy proposals – the Swiss Youth Parliament is a real laboratory of ideas. But what do their elder counterparts take from it?

For four days, up to and including last Sunday, the Swiss capital of Bern played host to the 26th session of the Youth Parliament.

Despite the name, the institution, which has existed since 1991, is not elected. The 200 participants, ranging from the ages of 14 to 21, are all volunteers, chosen by the Swiss Council for Youth Activities (CSAJexternal link) according to a quota system.

Factors for selection include gender, education level, and origin (it is not necessary to hold a Swiss passport). Swiss living abroad also take part, as do unaccompanied minors arrived through the asylum system.

“This way, we have an assembly much more representative of the population than the actual parliament,” says Valérie Vuille, spokeswoman of the CSAJ.

Duly backed up by experts and even national politicians, the parliament debates real issues, according to a daily agenda carefully prepared by the participants themselves; social preoccupations make up the lion’s share.

And in the end, the accepted ideas are sent up to the “adult” parliament, where the real work of persuasion begins. CSAJ members push for the recognition of the youths’ suggestions by lobbying parliamentarians and national and regional organisations, often with mixed results.

In fact, parliament ultimately rejects the majority of the petitions. For example, it recently refused the demand that an independent federal commission be set up to supervise the exports of Swiss weapons. The demand to legalise egg donations went the same way.

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