Despite of the uncertainties of the war in Ukraine, the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis, young people remain the engine of the European project and their creativity, energy and enthusiasm are the driving force for its sustainability. Decisions made today determine our world tomorrow, thus it is crucial to ensure that young people have a say in decisions affecting their future, since even indirect policies can have great impact and relevance for young people and generations to come.
In December 2021, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, designated 2022 the European Year of Youth because "Europe needs all of its youth" and "our Union needs a soul and a vision they can connect to". Furthermore, as stated by Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, "the European Year of Youth should bring a paradigm shift in how we include young people in policy and decision-making".
In the European Economic and Social Committee's (EESC) opinion on the EU Youth Strategy for 2019 -2027, it calls for focus on the cross-sectoral approach, taking a holistic view of young people and their needs and rights and emphasises that "the EESC is convinced that youth involvement in decision-making processes should be promoted beyond one-off events. Moreover, in further developing the Youth Dialogue, the role of youth voluntary organisations and National Youth Councils needs to be improved and additional avenues utilised. The EU institutions should take the lead in this regard, with the EESC being at the forefront of institutions enhancing youth involvement at EU level".
For some years now the EESC has been working on how to better integrate the voice of young people in its work and in the EU decision-making process in a structured and meaningful way by covering different dimensions such as climate and sustainability by establishing the Youth Climate and Sustainability Round Tables and including a youth delegate in the official EU delegation to UNFCCC COP meetings as well as in the delegation of the EESC; emphasising the role of education for sustainable development; elaborating on the employment and labour market situation and provisions; youth inclusion in the development of the National Recovery Plans which called for better involvement of youth organisations in the implementation and monitoring phases of the plans and in decision-making processes; youth policy in the Western Balkans where the EESC invites the EU to further support the Western Balkans in improving youth participation; mainstreaming youth perspective in all policy fields at EU level by introducing the EU Youth Test, which also includes concrete recommendations and proposals, and by proposing to enhance the internal engagement of young people and youth organisations in the EESC's work.
Furthermore, the EESC welcomed the proposal to designate 2022 the European Year of Youth (EYY) by stating that the EESC is ready to play a lead role in the EYY, building on successful EESC initiatives such as ''Your Europe, Your Say!'', Youth Climate and Sustainability Round Tables and the EESC Youth Delegate to the COP programme. The EESC is uniquely positioned to facilitate engagement with youth networks. Accordingly, the EESC established a Coordination Group for the European Year of Youth (CG EYY) in order to ensure the representation and visibility of this initiative within the EESC and to coordinate the ongoing youth-related initiatives. The CG EYY received a mandate to strengthen cooperation with youth organisations and young people during and beyond the EYY and to cooperate with the other EU institutions and civil society organisations to ensure better cross-cutting integration of young people in their everyday activities.
The draft resolution prepared by the CG EYY calls on the EU institutions and national governments to secure the long-lasting legacy of the European Year of Youth by promoting structured and meaningful youth engagement in policy-making and decision-making at all levels and by promoting participatory mechanisms for young people and youth organisations. Furthermore, the EESC reaffirms its commitment to strengthen youth engagement within its work and to promote youth mainstreaming at all levels for a more united and stronger Europe.
We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.
– Franklin D. Roosevelt
Long-lasting legacy of the European Year of Youth in the EESC
The EESC believes that the deliberations of the EYY must be followed up on and approached with open-mindedness by all stakeholders. It is crucial that there is a concrete legacy for the year and the work on the follow up is continued in the Year of Skills and beyond. Furthermore, the EU Youth Strategy and the Conference on the Future of Europe also foresee important steps towards more structured and meaningful engagement of young people in building the future of Europe.
The EESC believes that civil society organisations, and in particular youth organisations, are crucial to identifying innovative participatory instruments to mainstream youth perspectives in policy-making at all levels and across all policy fields and emphasises the role of civil society organisations in strengthening active citizenship, safeguarding basic human rights and democratic values for young people.
The EESC regrets that the civil space for youth organisations has been shrinking and emphasises its democratic relevance. The EESC calls for measures to empower youth organisations and to provide them with sustainable resources that will increase their capacity to represent and advocate for their rights and interests.
The EESC highlights the successful initiatives towards structured and meaningful youth participation of the last few years in its opinions and expresses its commitment to develop new initiatives in order to promote youth engagement and youth perspectives in policy-making.
The EESC believes that active participation of youth in policy-making and decision-making is vital in building the future of Europe and in building a vision that young people can connect to. Therefore, it encourages EU institutions to implement the EU Youth Test to ensure that all policy-making at EU level is seen through a youth lens.
Following on from the proposals presented in the opinion on the EU Youth Test, the EESC calls for youth mainstreaming in policy-making at all levels and for the development of a common approach towards structured and meaningful youth engagement for all EU institutions. The latter should build on the following pillars:
- co-creating youth-related initiatives/projects/events with youth organisations involved from the very beginning and ensuring that they have a say during each step of the process;
- sharing the ownership of the initiatives/projects/events with youth organisations, giving them a leading role and following their priorities and needs;
- strengthening the capacity of youth organisations, supporting them with the necessary financial resources and adequate tools to participate;
- building structured and meaningful follow-up processes, going way beyond ad hoc meetings and mere calls for consultations.
The EESC commits to establish a permanent group within the EESC to have transparent and cross-sectional coordination mechanisms to mainstream youth perspectives in the EESC's work and to further explore and consider possible ways to apply the EU Youth Test concept in its work to develop a consistent approach on youth involvement in the EESC.
Furthermore, the EESC calls for the creation of a structure representing and/or involving youth organisations in all EU institutions and/or possibly a stakeholder platform like the European Circular Economy Stakeholders Platform (ECESP) which would be in the remit of the EESC. In addition, since the EU Youth Dialogue is the most substantial participatory process of Europe involving decision-makers and young people discussing issues and coming up with solutions together, further steps could be taken to strengthen this participatory mechanism, for example, introducing the co-management structure which would also be led by the EESC.
The EESC urges stronger youth engagement in decision-making processes, from drafting legislative proposals and initiatives through to implementation, monitoring and follow-up. This approach has been used since 2021 at the EU delegation to the UNFCC COP meetings, where the delegation has at least one young delegate. The EESC strongly recommends that other EU delegations adopt a similar approach and take into account the intergenerational perspective.
To strengthen the EESC's own role in bridging the gap between policymakers and youth organisations and young people at both national and European levels, it is recommended, firstly, to establish a transparent, structured and meaningful youth participatory mechanism to effectively coordinate legislative work, for instance, a youth panel. Secondly, to engage with and involve young people and youth organisations within its work. Additionally, coordination and exchange of good practices on youth engagement at all levels and across all Member States and more targeted outreach activities should be implemented. In particular, strengthening relations with national youth organisations and bringing local youth projects into focus within the EESC and among the members.
Furthermore, taking into account the current turbulent geopolitical context, it is crucial to secure youth engagement in sustainability, security and peace building. The EESC welcomes the recently adopted Youth Action Plan in EU External Action and is going to adopt an own-initiative opinion on it in 2023. Additionally, the EESC invites the EU to further support the Western Balkans in improving youth participation, taking into account the positive correlation of educational or training mobility with the civic and political engagement of young people. The same principle should be taken into account in the relationship with Ukraine and Georgia. The EESC insists on strengthening the cooperation on youth policies with candidate status countries.
The EESC will strive to systematically take into account the voice of young people in its opinions, including own-initiative opinions and exploratory opinions adopted at the request of the rotating presidencies or other European institutions. The EESC will, thanks to its excellent relationship with them, do its best to convince them that these requests should cover aspects pertaining to young people.
The focus for upcoming years: to build a better future – greener, more inclusive and digital – together.
The EESC emphasises the importance of increasing the knowledge and the information levels of young people on European institutions, functioning mechanisms, fields of action, concrete examples from everyday activities and opportunities for personal and professional development among youth. The number of European experience exchange and training programmes (Erasmus+, Discover EU etc.) should be increased both locally and externally, as well as programmes under co-supervision with other educational institutions in the country and abroad. The EESC will promote and encourage the EESC members to organise going local initiatives focusing on youth.
The EESC points out the need to create and guarantee the framework for all young people to participate in the decision-making process at the European and national level by building institutions more open and willing to work with young people. It is particularly important to enable disadvantaged, vulnerable and marginalised young people to participate in decision-making processes. Promoting the participation of young people in political elections should be a priority. Furthermore, youth participation contributes to creativity and innovation, and young people must be heard and their civil and community participation should be encouraged from a young age.
The EESC recommends implementing second chance programmes and literacy programmes for early school leavers and measures to reduce early school leaving by ensuring guidance, support and social protection programmes addressed to young people from rural areas and those from poor families, in order to facilitate access to educational services.
It is necessary to achieve high-quality and inclusive education and training and lifelong learning to ensure that everyone has the knowledge, skills, competences and attitude needed for Europe to establish a more just, more cohesive, more sustainable, more digital and more resilient society. Young people need to have skills that enable them to participate fully in society and successfully manage transitions in the labour market, with a focus on the most vulnerable people. Skilled workers are an important component of ensuring European competitiveness, as also recognised in the European Commission proposal for the European Year of Skills 2023 alongside ensuring good working conditions, career predictability and access to opportunities. Participation in educational institutions should be encouraged. Implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights in relation to youth should be a priority. There is also a need to progress in education reform, addressing skills mismatches and focusing on lifelong learning, reskilling and upskilling.
The EESC calls for access to the educational system for young people from rural areas to be made easier by ensuring the material and digital infrastructure necessary for a high-quality educational process, especially in the field of sustainable development and the protection of the environment.
In collaboration with civil society organisations, the EESC encourages Member States to create targeted access to schools for people with rare diseases or people who cannot attend school for medical reasons and guarantee the necessary infrastructure to ensure equal access to educational services for people with disabilities as a priority so that no one will be left behind.
Education is a key enabler of all other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Therefore, the EESC supports the work of the European Commission towards learning for a green transition and sustainable development and calls on the Member States to implement and transform education in their countries accordingly.
The EESC proposes developing information and counselling sessions or educational curricula aimed at explaining the basic elements that constitute an integral part of the labour market, referring here to notions such as employer, employment contract, etc., alongside social partners and civil society. Enough resources should be allocated in this regard, especially for vulnerable youth and those employed in atypical forms of employment. This same information is also to be targeted to young migrants upon entering an unknown country, so as to integrate them faster into the new society, its educational and work systems and culture. More globally, young people should be offered increased means to learn about topics such as financial education and, very importantly, to have a strong knowledge of their rights as citizens and workers. All this is important to help young people prepare for their future adult life.
The EESC has already stated that entrepreneurship can also play a crucial role in improving competitiveness, innovation and well-being and the development of a social and green economy, even more so in the context of the post-pandemic recovery. Encouraging entrepreneurship education to develop entrepreneurial skills could be a way to create career paths, especially among young people.
The EESC encourages finding appropriate solutions at national level to ensure rent price control in order to facilitate mobility for educational or professional purposes and also implementing a social housing construction programme for young people, especially in large cities and economic development centres.
The EESC calls for young people to have better access to good-quality health services, especially for young people from rural areas, by increasing the number of hospital units or mobile sites that provide primary medical services and carrying out awareness campaigns in educational institutions targeting themes such as injury prevention, eating disorders, mental health and general health education and reproductive health, which are important subjects. Specific research programmes should be developed to help young people fight illnesses (such as cancer), as cures devised for adults often do not suit them.
Through collaboration with civil society organisations the EESC calls for increased and continuous efforts towards actions aimed at traffic education, prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, bullying and hate speech, consumption of tobacco, alcohol and drugs to take place in schools and with the involvement of youth and civil society.
The EESC proposes to ensure that young people have access to formal representation systems in the relationship with interested actors in the labour market and about the freedom of association and the right of workers and employers to form and join organisations of their own choosing for all young people, especially those who do not have a job or who have a precarious one.
The EESC is calling for the capacity of social partners and civil society organisations to be strengthened in order to represent youth and facilitate the process of transition from school to active working life and to involve youth organisations within social dialogue institutions, collective bargaining and in tripartite organisations that have responsibilities on the labour market.
The EESC is requesting modernisation and reinforcement of the institutions active on the labour market in the sense of adapting the services they provide to the specifics of young people in order to make them easily accessible, dynamic, friendly and less bureaucratic.
The EESC is calling for fair treatment to be guaranteed in terms of equal opportunities between women and men but also in terms of young people compared to other age categories, referring here to salaries, working conditions, training and advancement opportunities at work. The work of trainees, especially young people, should not imply exploitation and should not be a tool for circumventing the employment relationship. Unpaid or uncompensated internships can have a very negative impact on young peoples' experience of the labour market and must be banned. Youth representation should be further strengthened.
The EESC believes that support for the social economy is necessary, as this sector actively assists socially marginalised young people and other vulnerable individuals, notably through measures aimed at increasing self-esteem, communication, etc.
The EESC believes that the context created by the pandemic due to low accessibility of health services requires more effort to help young people detect signs of mental health and wellbeing issues and promote correct information on as many channels as possible to identify valuable information in contrast to false promises of help/support including by using health tools in this regard.
The EESC calls for social protection systems and labour legislation to be reformed to adapt them to new realities and forms of work and to ensure that subsequent changes in the field of work can be adjusted and regulated more quickly in the future, in full respect of national industrial relations models and the autonomy of social partners.
The EESC suggests that pension systems and social protection systems be recoupled to youth economic and social realities and should be fair, inclusive and adapted to the labour market reality, assuring protection for young people who practice new forms of work and those who are not employed. High-quality jobs for all young people must be a priority.
The EESC outlines that the period of the coronavirus pandemic showed that health and safety issues, including psychosocial risks, are important in addition to stability and predictability in employment. There is a need to engage in dialogue with young people on how to prevent problems in this area in the future. Availability of different forms of employment based on stability and quality standards is important to facilitate labour market participation of young people. In addition, measures are needed to strengthen the oversight of young people's employment conditions including the strengthening of labour inspections.
The EESC is asking for protection of youth rights and guaranteeing social protection through work-life balance, protecting the right to private life and preserving the space for collective negotiation. Finding ways to facilitate appropriate work schedule flexibility for finishing studies should be encouraged.
The EESC calls for more synergy between different instruments dedicated to youth such as the Youth Guarantee and Child Guarantee to be taken into account. Young people should be provided a real guarantee that provides them predictable career prospects. Public funding to support young people in the labour market should not contribute to precarity and involvement of the social partners and civil society in assisting youth on the labour market should remain a priority.
The EESC is aiming to make sure that appropriate and high-quality alternative care is organised for all children and young people who lack proper parental care and, as relationships are even more crucial in these circumstances, that sisters and brothers are permitted to stay together unless it is not in their best interest. More generally, it is important that support mechanisms do not end abruptly when young people turn 18.
The EESC underlines the need to appropriately address the economic, social and environmental challenges generated by the current economic model especially for youth. This should be done keeping in mind that making our societies greener, fairer, inclusive, sustainable and more focused on well-being should start with youth interest as the basic pillar for the future. Youth should be a transversal theme/objective in the ESIF investments.
The EESC considers it necessary to ensure that young people have the opportunities to have families. Increasing efforts to motivate youth to build a family and to have children are crucial for the stability and future of Europe. Therefore, it is essential to assure access to housing, childcare services and flexible social support by creating a dedicated EU programme in this regard.
The EESC strongly calls for the younger generation to be provided with a truly democratic and pluralistic public space to express their opinions without fear of exclusion or experiencing hatred. At the same time, it is extremely important to build knowledge and awareness about information manipulation and disinformation.
Brussels, 15 December 2022
The president of the European Economic and Social Committee