The European Year of Youth 2022: Focus on the results, not the hype

In the EU, 2022 will be the Year of Youth. Proposed by the Commission, the Year aims to promote opportunities for young people and engage them to become active citizens and actors of change. Although such an initiative is to be applauded, we must ensure it is geared towards achieving concrete and enduring outcomes for all young Europeans

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has welcomed the declaration of 2022 as the European Year of Youth but has warned it should go beyond mere promotional activities and should contribute towards the EU's youth strategy with clear plans and engagement, making sure it reaches the most vulnerable young people and those in disadvantaged areas.

To this end, the EU should develop clear indicators and goals focusing on policies for young people and on work across different sectors, so that the activities that are organised do not become an end in themselves, the EESC said in the opinion on the European Year of Youth 2022, adopted at its December plenary..

The EESC is looking forward to engaging positively with the European Year of Youth 2022. The year must be about more than just communication and activities. We want it to produce concrete outcomes for the European youth in policy areas that impact on their lives, said the rapporteur for the opinion, Michael McLoughlin.

Uniquely positioned to work and liaise with youth networks, the EESC announced it was ready to play a lead role in the Year of Youth, building on its successful initiatives such as Your Europe, Your Say! and the Youth Climate and Sustainability Roundtables. The Committee expressed concern, however, that the agenda and priorities for the year appeared crowded, as they contain a very large number of commitments, references to other initiatives, budgets, and policy areas.

Although these priorities are mostly welcome, as they reflect the cross-sectoral nature of youth policies, the EESC is of the view that they would benefit from being simplified.

It is important to have clarity and focus in the proposal. Sometimes less is more and there may be a fear that a long list of policy areas and shared responsibilities can obscure a clear focus on outcomes, responsibility, and results, Mr McLoughlin stressed.

Despite agreeing that the timing and the context in which the decision to designate 2022 as the Year of Youth was right – the COVID-19 crisis has been particularly harsh on young people and will have long-lasting consequences for their education and their social, financial and mental well-being - the EESC fears the proposal was made rather hastily.

The proposal has been developed at breakneck speed. We do not believe this is the optimal way to develop such proposals, as welcome as they may be. This presents the danger of important youth-related initiatives becoming more about high-profile political announcements rather than long-term systematic development, Mr McLoughlin said.

This also presents a challenge for the implementation of the Year at national level, as time has been extremely tight for national authorities to draw up actions in the different Member States. They may also struggle with funding to cover the costs of the activities envisaged for the Year.

The EESC has therefore objected to the budget allocated for the Year, set at EUR 8 million, believing there is a need for more ambition. According to the EESC, a total allocation of EUR 10 million, with EUR 2 million for coordination at the national level, is required to have sufficient impact and to encourage participation.

According to the EESC, it must be made clear in all promotional material and other activities that any major funding for the Year will in fact come from existing sources, primarily the ERASMUS+ programme. This also means that national agencies for ERASMUS+ will have to prioritise activities relating to the Year of Youth and will therefore need clarity, support and direction.

Coordination will be critically important for the success of the Year. There is a need for greater involvement of civil society and a bigger role for youth organisations at all levels. A major role should be played by national youth councils and other major youth organisations, which should be equal partners in the National Coordinators Group. They should be involved in both co-creating and implementing the Year and should be supported in fulfilling this function.

It is also vital for the Commission to ensure that young people and their organisations take part in monitoring and overseeing the Year at the national and sub-regional level. This is essential because youth policies are uneven and differ across Member States. 

The EESC stressed the need to ensure maximum engagement with the young people that are hardest the reach: those with disabilities, minority groups or those living in disadvantaged areas. Reference to the latest Commission ALMA initiative geared towards young Europeans who are not in employment, education or training, is of special merit.

Work on external relations within youth policy, as envisaged in the proposal, is most welcome for the Year and for the future. The European model of youth work is commendable and can play an essential role in Europe's external relations, both in the EU neighbourhood and globally, the EESC concluded.