They are meeting to discuss current political issues, on this occasion from 29 August to 2 September 2012 during the 16th National Selection Conference of Switzerland's European Youth Parliament.
The focal point of this multi-day session is discussion. There are all sorts of controversial topics on the agenda, such as legalising cannabis, quotas for women in politics, the Arab spring and climate change. But the arrangements cover more than just contentious subjects of discussion. An international team consisting of around 50 young volunteers have organized the session in detail to ensure the programme runs smoothly, from team building and debates right through to the closing ceremony.
Eighteen delegations each consisting of between four and six students from various Swiss high schools plus a guest delegation from Germany prepare and discuss a wide variety of different subjects. Switzerland's three major language regions are fully represented. Debates are held in English, and they take place fluently. The two best delegations will qualify for international sessions in Amsterdam in the autumn and in Munich next spring, hence the event's name - the National Selection Conference. And the third international session will take place in summer 2013. For the first time in seven years, this will be held on home ground, in Zurich.
The participants are divided into committees. Each committee prepares one of the topics and draws up an associated resolution. This is presented to all the participants at the general meeting at the end of the session. There is then a 30-minute plenary discussion, which ends with a symbolic vote on the resolution.
Making a difference
Each of the resolutions is discussed in turn. What's striking with each one is how active and committed the participants appear to be. Some of the points of view expressed are rather brief, meaning that the complexity of the issues is not fully addressed in all cases. But the aim is not to find a solution for the wide range of subjects in the short time available. Instead, the focus is on the process and the discussion. But what exactly happens to the resolutions that have been drawn up? Konrad Staeger, Board Member of European Youth Parliament Switzerland, explains: "It's not so much about achieving a direct result. What's more important is that the young people discuss current issues and form opinions." The key aspects of the session are political education and an exchange of views between young people. The idea is for them to get to know themselves and their abilities better and develop them. As one participant at this year's session explains: "Meeting other people who are interested in politics was particularly rewarding. It was also interesting to see how you yourself react to others."
In her closing speech, Kerstin Mathias, the President of the session, observed somewhat ironically and self-critically that the session itself was unlikely to change the world. But the process and what participants had learned would contribute towards a better world. What was important was that the young people developed to become active European citizens.
The session finally closed on a very atmospheric note, with this year's young EYP attendees swaying arm in arm as they sang that classic song of all dreamers – "Imagine" by John Lennon. "Perhaps some day you'll join them, and the world will live as one…”