Supporting youth initiative

By Denisa Căldăraru & Cătălina Ciorei

Androulla Vassiliou has been the European Commissioner for Health since march 2008. She is an active Cypriot and European politician, with law studies background and civil society actions. As one of the speakers in the opening day of the Youth Health Conference, she summed up the purpose of this activity using these three words: listen, learn, motivate – listen to what young people have to say, learn from their ideas and motivate them to take initiative and get involved in health initiatives that concern them. We had the chance to talk to her and find out more about the Commission’s activity on youth health and the follow up of this Conference.

Denisa Caldararu, Androulla Vassiliou and Catalina Ciorei at Youth Health Conference 2009

Denisa Caldararu, Androulla Vassiliou and Catalina Ciorei at Youth Health Conference 2009

EYP: What were your expectation when you planned this conference?

Androulla Vassiliou: Well, first of all, what I expected was to see how important health was to young people, because very often young people don’t think about health because they’re young, they’re healthy.

EYP: And is your impression after what happened these past days?

A.V.: I think they started to recognize the importance of a healthy lifestyle, this is the message that we want to send to young people. We want to see how they want us to communicate with/to young people through the workshops. Because we know what was said in the workshops and we take it from there and we see what are the messages young people want to send us. And we use these messages to make our policies in the future. We have a lot of information but do young people read this information, is it reaching them? So I want to see what other source of information they would like us to give them.

EYP: Some companies have benefited from the financial crisis. For example Nuttela, McDonald’s. People can’t afford healthy food and find themselves choosing fast food with unhealthy ingredients over healthy, recommended ones. What is the Commission doing so that young people make the right food choices even during this financial crisis?

A.V.: What you said is very true. We have this forum for health and nutrition and we are trying, through these strategies to pass the message for healthy eating. It’s not easy because young people like to be in fashion and it’s a very difficult job for the parents and for the government to pass the message that eating fast food isn’t good for you. But I think that gradually we’re getting there. What you said about the financial crisis is true but I think that you, young people, can influence each other. You can pass the messages that you want to convey. That is why we want to involve young people, because young people listen to young people more than they do to us. And we want to have a great number of leaders.

EYP: You talked about involving young people in decision making. What does this mean exactly? What can a young person do in order for his message to be heard and to be carried on?

A.V.: For example, we have this competition. This competition, in photography, video, essays etc gives us some messages. We take these messages and we use them. Because it comes from you. We have to take them into account when we set our policies. For example what they said about bicycling rather than taking the bus. It’s a good message because it’s a healthy lifestyle, it’s physical exercise, good for the climate. So there were very important messages today, like prevention, sexual health, all these are good messages that we keep and also when we formulate our policies, we always have stakeholders’ intervention. So what the young people will say we’ll make it happen.

EYP: Do they have the chance to make health policy decisions, not just discuss?

A.V.: Certainly. Because we now have a very open dialog with young people through the Internet, our website, so yes, it make a difference. We always have consultation with stakeholders when we adopt policies and young people have their say in this, especially youth organizations.

EYP: A progress report has found that more than halfway to the 2015 deadline to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), major advances in the fight against poverty and hunger have begun to slow or even reverse as a result of the global economic and food crises. How can we avoid that the effects of the financial crisis prevent us from fulfilling our promises for 2015. How can we accelerate progress at a time like this?

A.V.: Well, we hope, of course (this is not my field, because we have a commissioner in charge of development) but we’re trying to coordinate to develop our policies. I am an optimist, I think that the crisis will be over. With the coordination and with the initiatives that the European Council, I think that we started seeing the light, and when this is crisis is over, we will victoriously promote our goals.

EYP: If you were to give advice to young people regarding health and initiative, what would that be?

A.V.: I have many messages for youngsters but the first that comes to my mind is “don`t take risks”. Think twice before you do something that puts yourself to risk. Don`t risk something that would influence your whole life for pleasure that lasts for a night or some hours.