Commissioner Vassiliou addresses EU Youth Conference in Leuven
On 4 October, Commissioner Vassiliou presented the new 'Youth on the Move' iniative at a EU Youth Conference in the medieval university town of Leuven. She stressed the importance of education and training in today's Europe. "We want all young people to have fair and equal access to education and employment. We also want to give every young person the opportunity to be an active citizen in their community".The Commissioner highlighted the importance of the EU Youth Strategy, which complements Youth on the Move by emphasising youth participation. "We should be guided by the new provision of the Lisbon Treaty which calls for the EU to encourage youth participation in democratic life. Young people themselves should be ambassadors for the cause." The EU Youth Conference, a regular presidency youth policy event, brought together more than 250 young Europeans and policy makers from all Member States. This debate forms part of the ongoing structured dialogue with young people at national and EU level.
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Minister, colleagues, friends,
First, let me say how pleased I am to be here with you at the EU Youth conference. These debates are a vital channel for your voices. I want to thank you all for your commitment, sharing your views among yourselves across Europe, and then sharing them with us.
Let me also thank our host, Minister Pascal Smet, and all the Belgium Presidency team for inviting us to Leuven.
This is a city with a vibrant history of learning, going back to the Middle Ages. It is wonderful that medieval universities, like Leuven, still thrive in Europe's intellectual and cultural life today.
Just as in modern times, medieval universities were home to many foreign students. They travelled from one university to the other; they shared knowledge; they broadened each other's perspectives; and they asked awkward questions that changed our understanding of the world!
One such travelling scholar who stayed here was Erasmus of Rotterdam. And as I am sure you know, Erasmus lives on in our well-known exchange programme for students.
Medieval academics were also very active in decisions about university life. They were organised in so-called "nations". They elected representatives who in turn elected the rector of the university.
This is not unlike the build-up to this conference, with national youth councils electing you as their representatives to come here to Leuven…! So we can really say that the medieval scholars sparked democratic participation, including that of young people, one of Europe's core values.
Within our EU Youth Strategy, we continue to build on these traditions of learning and taking part. We want all young people to have fair and equal access to education and employment. We also want to give every young person the opportunity to be an active citizen in their community.
Everyone should feel they have a stake in the wider society to which we all belong. This is why youth participation is so important to us. This important goal is now part of the Treaty of Lisbon, which includes a call to encourage young people to take part in democratic life in Europe.
Having a stake in society is not a one-way street; it also means that society in turn gives everyone the tools to take part. For young people, as your discussions show, this means, above all, good education and training, and decent jobs.
But Europe is still in the grips of the worst economic crisis the Union has ever known. Youth unemployment was already high, and a problem in many countries; but since the start of the crisis, a further one million young people are looking for jobs. More than 21% of the young generation are unemployed.
So, more people are chasing fewer jobs. But too many young people - 1 in 7 - are leaving school early. They leave without the skills and the qualifications that could give them a foothold in the world of work. And as the wider world becomes more complex, it becomes harder to keep up with change when you lack the basic skills.
This is why Europe 2020 – our overall European strategy for overcoming the crisis –– focuses so strongly on improving chances for young people. Europe's leaders have agreed that we cannot just continue as before: this has been the first lesson from the economic crisis.
Europe needs to grow again, to recover from recent losses and put ourselves on track for the 21st century. But not any kind of growth. We all agree that we must target growth that is smart, that is sustainable, and that is inclusive.
Giving young people a fair deal in education and work has to be one of the primary conditions for getting there.
This is why we have launched our new initiative, "Youth on the Move": to give Europe's young citizens this better deal, to give everyone the chance to use their potential to the full.
Youth on the Move reinforces the EU Youth Strategy. With both initiatives, we have summoned the political will to better serve Europe's young citizens.
In a nutshell, we have three principal goals: to offer better education and training; to help more young people improve their skills, both for learning and for jobs; and to improve job chances with a new framework for youth employment.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me explain a little of our vision for education and training. My colleague, László Andor, will speak afterwards about our plans for youth employment.
For a start, all the Member States have agreed on European targets in education and training: first, to reduce the share of early school leavers from 15% to 10%; and second, to increase the share of young university graduates from 31% at present to 40% by 2020.
We also set out actions for improving the quality of education - from pre-school, to schools and training and into university. We need to turn schools and colleges into modern places of learning, where young people develop the skills for today's and tomorrow's world.
We also believe that people should be able to make the most of the skills they have acquired outside education. Many of you know this firsthand, having developed new skills from your involvement in youth exchanges and youth organisations.
Such forms of learning are very precious, as an extra strength alongside traditional education. Think of the value of leadership, entrepreneurship, initiative and creativity in a society that thrives on innovation and change.
Next year we will propose ways for validating non-formal and informal learning, so that people can acquire better recognition for these learning experiences outside of school.
We also plan to develop a European Skills Passport next year. This will be a way for people to record all their skills and competences, including those learned informally and non-formally. For example, through traineeships, or volunteering, or involvement in NGOs – again, an area you know well.
The EU is also a convinced believer in learning mobility. It is a fast-track to personal development and to the soft skills we need more and more – skills like creativity, communication and self-reliance.
With Youth in Action, Erasmus and all our other mobility programmes, around 300.000 young people every year get the opportunity to spend a period of learning abroad.
We want to open up opportunities for mobility, to make it a step that every young person can take on their learning path.
As part of Youth on the Move, we have made a proposal to Member States, urging them to remove the remaining obstacles to studying or training abroad. We will monitor their progress with a new Mobility Scoreboard.
And finally, ladies and gentlemen, friends,
We have begun to prepare the new EU funding programmes, which will begin in 2014. We want to make the new programmes accessible to as many young people as possible.
I invite all of you to take part in our consultations on the design of the future EU youth programme. I sincerely hope that you will all participate - your opinion matters to us and will help us get it right.
We will also continue to consult you through the Structured Dialogue - our key tool for dialogue with young people and youth organisations on European policy.
I am delighted that within less than a year, we have seen such success in setting up National Working Groups, which are now operational in virtually all the Member States.
All of us – young people and policy makers - can bring our wealth of experience together in a united front. Together we can work for a better future for our young people, for our Europe, for our world. And I know that our debate today will help point us in the right direction!