Due to demographic developments, the percentage of young people as part of the overall population is expected to shrink over the next decades. Young people will need to make their voice heard. Intergenerational dialogue will become more and more important in this respect.
In consultations at European level on where young people see their main policy needs, increased participation of young people in society and policy-making has continuously ranked among the most important topics throughout the past decade.
The turnout of young people (18 – 24 year olds) for the European Parliament (EP) 2009 elections was 29%; this is 14 percentage points below the European average and 4 percentage points less than in 2004. Young people are, however, not disengaged. 50% of young people declared that they had not received sufficient information about the EP elections. In addition, participation patterns of young people tend to change from long-term affiliation to a political party or an organisation, to social networking and ad hoc engagement.
Article 165 of the Lisbon Treaty stipulates that "Union action … shall be aimed at encouraging the participation of young people in democratic life in Europe". This gives the Union a strong legal basis to strengthen the cooperation in the field of youth participation.
Article 24 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union stipulates that "children ... may express their views freely. Such views shall be taken into consideration on matters which concern them in accordance with their age and maturity".
The new EU Youth Strategy, as outlined in a Council Resolution on a "Renewed framework for European cooperation in the youth field (2010-2018)" – a document which defines the main focus of European youth policy for the next decade – highlights participation as one of eight fields of action, in which the Council invites both the Commission and Member States to take initiatives in their respective spheres of competence. The aim is to support "young people's participation in representative democracy and civil society at all levels and in society at large".
Participation and active citizenship will be key priorities of the Hungarian EU Presidency in the first half of 2011 in the field of youth.
The new EU Youth Strategy, a "Renewed framework for European cooperation in the youth field (2010-2018), sets out a strategy for European cooperation in the youth field over the next decade, and lists the following initiatives by Member States and the Commission within their respective spheres of competence:
The new EU Youth Strategy also defines a Structured Dialogue among young people, youth organisations and policy makers with the aim to give young people the possibility to influence policy making processes in a continuous and transparent way.
The Communication on ‘Promoting young people's full participation in education, employment and society’ of September 2007 is a reaction to demographic ageing in Europe and to the difficulties young people encounter on the labour market. It stresses the need for a cross-cutting approach to youth issues in order to enhance young people's active participation in education, employment and in society. To enhance young people's participation in society, the Commission proposes to reinforce the partnership between EU institutions and youth representatives and to prepare in future, every three years, an EU report on youth.
Following the Communication, the Council adopted a Resolution on the participation of young people with fewer opportunities . In this Resolution, Member States, when implementing the objectives of the Lisbon Strategy and the European Youth Pact, are invited to give high priority to young people in the most vulnerable situations. In parallel, a peer learning exercise was carried out to facilitate the sharing of best practice in the field of participation for all young people. The peer learning included a conference, at which policy makers met youth workers and NGOs to discuss and share experiences. The concrete results of the whole exercise can be studied in the Good practice brochure [822 KB] .
How it began
The White Paper on Youth recognised that young people need to be encouraged to play their full role in civic and democratic life. In order to get more involved, youth also need better information about the possibilities for participation. This means that providing them with relevant information is crucial. Through the Open Method of Coordination (OMC), the Commission facilitates the sharing of good practice between the Member States and the setting of common objectives in the field of youth. Participation and information form part of these common objectives.
At European level, initiatives have been taken to further these objectives:
The Youth in Action programme funds projects which are designed to encourage a sense of active European citizenship in young people and encourage young people to become more involved in the democratic process at regional, national and European level.
In order to improve access to information, the European Youth Portal – which was set up as a direct consequence of the White Paper – is designed to help young people who are living, learning and working in Europe. It provides European and national information on 31 countries in 24 languages and allows young people to voice their opinions through on-line discussion forums, and to have their questions answered through the Eurodesk network.
In November 2006, the Council of Youth Ministers adopted a Resolution on participation and information. The youth ministers invited the Commission and Member States to develop a continuous structured dialogue with young people, "aimed at ensuring a timely and effective contribution by young people and other relevant actors in the youth field towards the formulation of policies relevant to young people's lives”. The Resolution also invites the Commission to organise a European Youth Week with regular intervals. In the Resolution, the Member States agreed to carry out a number of actions, such as defining concrete national measures, setting up mechanisms to monitor the implementation of common objectives and to promote these objectives among regional authorities and youth organisations.