The importance of youth in European policy making - International Youth Day - 12 August 2016


Statement by Gonçalo Lobo Xavier, Vice-President of the EESC, on International Youth Day

Today we celebrate International Youth Day, which recognises the power of youth in transforming the world. First launched in Lisbon in 1998, this year's International Youth Day is dedicated to promoting the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their aim to fight global poverty and promote a sustainable world for all. Our ability to implement the SDGs effectively will determine the future of today's youth.

The EESC works hard not only to promote the SDGs themselves but also on many of the SDG policy areas that affect youth today. As young adults have had their access to the labour market barred by a double-dip recession, this group is currently the worst affected by poverty: the "at-risk-of-poverty" (AROP) rate went up from 15.4% in 2007 to 20.0% in 2014. A further increase in the AROP rate may well have been prevented by more young adults living with their parents rather than in their own households. If we consider SDG 1 (end poverty in all its forms everywhere), we must agree that young adults must see their situations improve very soon. Creating more and better opportunities for them to be economically active is firstly a question of rights, but we should not forget that they are also expected to finance the pension systems of Europe's ageing population. Full and productive employment and decent work for all, including young people is therefore the aim of SDG 8. Young people make up over a third of unemployed people across the globe and often suffer most from low paid work and poor working conditions. The EESC is committed to combatting youth unemployment and improving working conditions and has adopted many opinions along these lines.

SDG 4 aims to promote lifelong learning and in particular equal access to affordable and quality technical vocational and tertiary education. Having participated in the ERASMUS exchange programme myself, I firmly believe that strong education systems benefit young people, opening their minds to differences, encouraging cultural exchange, and strengthening their belief in peace and solidarity. The EESC is a staunch supporter of strong vocational training systems and fair apprenticeships that effectively prepare the younger generations to enter the labour market.

The role of young people in transforming the world is at the centre of EESC thinking. This year I had the opportunity to take part in supporting and mobilising young people to participate in policy-making at European level. In March, the EESC organised Your Europe, Your Say (YEYS), an annual initiative bringing approximately 100 students from across the EU and the five candidate countries (Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey) to the centre of EU decision-making so we can hear first-hand what Europe's youth thinks about the key challenges they face. This year the focus of YEYS was on the issue of migration and integration, which also relates to an important part of SDG 10 on reducing inequalities through facilitating orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies. These 100 YEYS youth delegates agreed on a series of proposals to better integrate migrants, especially children, into European societies. Their proposals included improving standards for media reporting on migration, reducing discrimination, setting up hotspots, faster processing of asylum applications, language and cultural training, easing refugees into the education system and recognising the importance of education for integration.

By focusing on the SDGs this year, International Youth Day will definitely contribute to transforming our world, as youth is often the catalyst of change. At the EESC, we will continue to actively support the participation of young people in our initiatives and keep them in our thoughts throughout our work.

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