Young people strengthen political presence
The 200 participants in the Youth Session of parliament have raised the political voice of young people in Switzerland by handing in 15 petitions to the government.
They include a demand to lower the voting age from 18 to 16, with two-thirds of the 14- to 21-year-olds at the annual meeting in Bern believing "political maturity does not depend on one's age".
Other topics they want to be discussed in parliament include youth violence prevention, energy labels for household appliances, criminalising doping in sport and a no to Formula One races in Switzerland.
"They have to listen – how carefully they listen I don't know – but they can't ignore us," one of the participants, 18-year-old Dave Kläy, told swissinfo. "The voice of young people is getting louder and louder every year."
The Youth Session handed in its petitions to the federal chancellery on Sunday and on Monday held an election debate on Parliament Square with politicians discussing the themes "Young People and Elections" and "Young People and Poverty".
This year's Youth Session, which began on Friday, attracted young people from all over Switzerland – in addition to a few young Swiss living abroad – under the motto "Dissatisfied with the world of today? Then get involved for the world of tomorrow".
The session, which is organised by the Association of Swiss Youth Organisations, has up to now taken place once a year. But there are plans for an additional event on November 23.
The idea for this new "topical" session would be for participants to take part in the actual parliamentary session for one day.
Future plans also include branching out and networking more with young people in other countries who are also interested in politics.
"We are unique – the Youth Session is not a youth parliament – but we are going to try to forge more international connections," Dario Bigger, 20, president of the Youth Session Forum, told swissinfo.
"But obviously young foreigners living in Switzerland can take part – the session is open to all 14- to 21-year-olds who live in Switzerland – but we are toying with the idea of linking up with European youth parliaments."
One of the session's main goals – in addition to educating young people about how politics works, introducing like-minded people to one another and trying to raise awareness of youth-related themes in everyday life – is to motivate young people to get involved in politics and play an active role in society.
But for Kläy, who like Bigger first got into youth politics at school, motivations vary.
"Some people are motivated to collect petitions, which they think parliament will discuss. But there a lot of people, like me, who are realists and think the session is simply a signal – a signal that we young people are here and we want to say something," Kläy said.
"We know we can't change the opinions of the top politicians, but we are motivated to be here and say something. And this is what's important for us: we're not just sitting at home and waiting to vote. There are a lot of people who are not yet 18 and this is the only platform where they can really say something."
swissinfo, Thomas Stephens
About 200 people aged 14-21 took part in the 16th federal Youth Session in the capital Bern.
The first such meeting was organised in 1991 to coincide with the 700th anniversary of the founding of Switzerland.
It is organised by the Swiss council for youth activities.
Regional youth parliament sessions have also been held.
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