Looking back at the last legislative term, what were the most significant achievements or challenges you faced as a young member of the European Parliament?
There have been several significant achievements. First of all, having the opportunity to deal with two very important matters today, both the economy and the environment, is something that is very important for the young people, and for the future generations.
For example, I have been a rapporteur for COP reports and I was given several files for the legislative acts of the Fit-for-55. On the side of economic governance, I was leading topics related to the Basel directive to combat corruption in Europe.
But I think one of the most special moments that stands out throughout these years is the experience of having been the first political youth representative to demonstrate our commitment in support to Ukraine in Kyiv, where I had the opportunity to be earlier this year.
I think among these accomplishments, we cannot neglect the impact that Covid-19 had in this term. We're not finished yet, but still it had a huge impact. Because seven months after we took office in July 2019, we were all working from home. And so we did not have the opportunity to properly engage with the colleagues from our political groups and across political groups. I think this was a challenge that had an indirect impact in the management of the different files and even in the management of politics inside his house.
Still, I think one of the greatest challenges that I faced was to strike a balance between my preliminary responsibilities and also being present and connected to my generation across Europe as president of the youth of European People’s Party (EPP) which requires frequent presence on weekends, everywhere in Europe. Obviously, once the pandemic was over, these travels and these visits are quite demanding.
So it's been a challenging period. But with good will and some coffee, I feel like I have been close to the youth organisations and its members, and at the same time, being their voice in the European Parliament. But obviously, I would like to [see an] increase the number of young voices in the European Parliament for the next term.
A lot of politicians and people in general, they love to say ‘young people are the future’. No, young people are not the future, young people are the present.
How do you think your age and generational perspective have influenced your work and decision-making in the European Parliament? Can you provide examples of issues where your perspective differed from older colleagues?
The conversations about generations are always a difficult one, because the older generations tend to say: ‘my generation was where we get things right’ and ‘these younger generations are not capable’. But I think any political decision and public policy must respect some sort of generational sustainability principle and social intergenerational fairness. And what do these mean? I think it means that we should keep in mind the principles of justice and equal opportunities between and throughout generations.
I believe that over the years this has not been happening. I'm now 32-years old, but I came to the parliament when I was 27. If we look back, in the last 20 to 25 years our generation has been experiencing successive crises, which have affected younger generations more than older generations. I think that, for example, this reflects the sense of urgency among the youth that is often associated with the climate issues. But we cannot neglect another element which is like if we compare to 100 years ago, we live in a much more complex and interdependent world where problems have a global reach. So the topic of climate change, but many other topics as well, demand motivation to change, greater commitment and dedication with a sense of purpose.
We have been little-by-little somehow captured by minority agendas, with very vocal speeches addressing important matters that deserve attention, but we cannot forget that there's a silent majority that is largely composed of young people who have not received answers to their problems. The problems of their generation mainly [responds to the fact that] Europe has lost some ambition for economic growth, which is related to the fact that we have a demographic situation in decline in Europe.
But this agenda that [we had] in the past, today is necessary as well: economic growth, better wages, prosperity, better living conditions, better access to housing, culture, healthcare, defence … I think if we compare the desires, the wishes or the aspirations of generations are not so different, right, but the complexity and the context is different. Our generation likes a bit of a sense of dedication. This means it is difficult for someone who does not share these concerns, which are largely generational, to prioritise any issue politically and this is why I carry the sense of urgency and commitment into political action for younger generations — and I think the environment is a good example of that.
I consider myself, if you want, a climate activist within the European People's Party. I know that it’s still perceived that the centre-right does not care for the environment as the other political forces — which I think is wrong, because I have been advocating for the fact that environment is a conservative topic: we want to care, we want to preserve, we want to deliver for the future generations and so this is a conservative agenda. But the parliament is more polarised, and it seems like the willingness for compromises has faded away.
In relation to climate, for example, we can only succeed to mitigate climate change and to adapt to climate change (because, unfortunately, there are some climate change effects that are that are irreversible), if we bring people on board, rather than turning the discussion which often is trapped in these new anti-capitalist agenda that excludes everyone.
We need to find ways of building bridges, because otherwise, we don't achieve anything. We don't deliver anything to anyone.
We just need to have the mindset and the strategy for not accepting certain things, and we need to speak up.
Have you encountered any obstacles or biases in the European Parliament based on your age?
The monopoly of good ideas does not belong to a specific generation, especially not just the older ones. And I think I have been privileged to try to balance bringing a younger perspective into topics into policies into the agency file, and combine it with more-experienced colleagues.
I also feel I have been very fortunate. The results of my work were recognised. This is also linked to the EPP's willingness to acknowledge that they need to give a voice to younger generations.
I can tell you that when I arrived at this parliament, I was running for the position of vice coordinator in the economy and monetary affairs committee. Inside my group I was elected, and later on, I ran for being coordinator of the subcommittee. So, that’s coordinating the work of more than 160 MEPs. That’s quite a job. So, you know, I think I believe that my political group understands the importance of having the younger voices also leading on the different issues.
I never felt any type of discrimination, but, on the contrary, I always felt a strong incentive for active commitment inside the European People's Party, but also in my PSD party in Portugal.
And I would like to replicate this approach, if I can to use this model for other colleagues and for other people that wish to join to be politically-active in their parties, but also continuing this work in science, and the EPP of pushing for younger voices here in the parliament.
We just need to have the mindset and the strategy for not accepting certain things, and we need to speak up. And when those things happen, we need to speak up and make a point – that's my approach here.
What are your expectations and priorities for the upcoming legislative term in the European Parliament? Are there specific issues or policies that you believe require urgent attention, especially from a youth perspective?
I think we absolutely need to focus politically on the concerns and aspirations of the mainstream population – and to address young people's aspirations or concerns who often feel disconnected from politics in general.
And that they believe that politics has no relevance in their life. I think this is central, because otherwise we are silently feeding populism and extremism. So addressing these people, the mainstream population, is key.
Then, in Europe, if we look at the data, we have a highly-educated, qualified generation of young individuals who find increasingly more difficult or challenging to achieve their dreams, eg access to housing. Especially f we talk about salary.
There is still a prevailing sense that we are somehow living worse-off than the previous generations. And this is terrible, because it completely hampers the hopes and aspiration of younger people. So I refuse to accept that [status quo]. And I think we need to reclaim an agenda that is centred in economic growth, the fight for higher and better wages, but also to establish a better work life balance, strengthens social rights, improves health care. And obviously, again, this is important and prioritises environmental sustainability. I think sustainability and economic growth are two elements that I think will be very important in the next term.
At least with the war in Ukraine, and now the situation between Israel and Hamas in the Middle East, this is something that is having huge impact not only on international borders, but also in our daily lives, with a particular impact for younger generations. So I believe that we need to focus on economic growth. And it is very relevant to also recognise that democracy and the success of European projects rely on an agenda that prioritises the needs of people over ideological rhetoric, that often lacks substance and practical solutions — and unfortunately this has been happening.
And so we cannot forget the majority of young people who feel overlooked and underrepresented in their aspirations. But, unfortunately, the sense of not having the access to opportunities for our generation, I think, is increasingly higher.
And so we need to tackle that, and we need to have to offer these narratives of hope, of positivity, it's been many, many years of frequent crises. But still, Europe is the best place to on Earth.
A lot of politicians and people in general, they love to say ‘young people are the future’. No, young people are not the future, young people are the present, and they will be the future.
We need to meet the expectations of the young people that already exists and have an opinion and have their aspirations and they have the right to be heard.
In light of recent youth-led movements and activism across Europe, such as climate strikes and social justice movements, how do you see the role of young MEPs in amplifying these concerns and translating them into policy actions at the European level?
I use the motto that politics is to serve, and I serve, so I'm here with a purpose which is meeting the expectations of the millions of Europeans that I represent. There's a lot of topics that are more relatable for young people. But we are here serving millions of Europeans across Europe because that's what the treaties say.
The radical messages linked to youth movements sometimes are appealing. But the answers to the questions of the aspirations of people, they reside in the centre, in moderate political parties.
I think we need to be aware that social political transformation happens more through reforms and then through radical revolution.
In a conversation that I have the opportunity to moderate between former president Herman Van Rompuy and a colleague of mine [François-Xavier] Bellamy, van Rompuy said “democracy is conversation”. And that means that it requires dialogue, compromise, agreements and inclusiveness.
I think activists and the political agendas they advocate for play an important role. They often mobilise and inspire political reforms, and in many cases, even, and support and drive political solutions that have been found in the meantime. But we must not fall into the trap of turning public debate into a factional struggle, clashing all the time with political visions and agendas that have been defeated by the evolution of time, particularly political movements from the extreme.
In times of polarisation and loud environments, we need to find these centres of gravity for finding a democratic conversation.
How do you see the overall representation of young people in the European Parliament? What reforms or changes would you advocate for to enhance the representation and voice of young MEPs in the future?
Studies on young people's participation in the European democratic process clearly show that young people want to participate more actively. And I think it is relevant to say that even in the last European elections, we saw an increased participation of young people compared to previous European elections. Many studies also indicate that there is a growing mobilisation of youth political participation for the upcoming elections, even suggesting that it can gain up to 10 percent in voting intention.
I think this is a gradual, and a dual task that needs to unfold. So, on the one hand, political parties need to understand the political advantages of involving young people in political processes. It is true that certain social groups are easier to mobilise for elections, such as pensioners, but that alone is not enough to win elections. [On the other hand] the involvement of younger generations in political parties is also important. Young people also need to break up from these advisory roles that they often have and demand formal representation in decision making. This obviously requires commitment, strategy, dedication, education and more sacrifices. That needs to be said, because it's not easy to be in the political arena. That needs to be said, and explained. Because it is demanding and often lacks glamour, but requires high standards. There's no other way that we can improve people's lives, save the planet and pursue happiness.
But I think before we demand reforms, I think we must carry out the most significant reform of all, which is a change in mentality. I say this because if we look at the political representatives in Portugal, or even if we look to other examples across Europe, we see politicians that went into power 30 or 40 years ago, so right after the revolution [of 1974], and they're still there. I'm not saying this because I want to start a war between generations. It's not that it's just the first change in mentality requires that we acknowledge that it is necessary to rejuvenate and to refresh. It is only with fresher approaches we are able to address the complexity of the world. that we are facing. So we need a balance between younger voices and experienced voices, but first of all we need a change in mentality, so more political parties understand that we need to find younger voices and people that really want to dedicate themselves to public service.
The most important files Pereira worked on for the last legislative term 2019-2023: