European policies concerning youth participation and information
The purposes of this Communication are to look at how Member States have followed up the common objectives on participation by and information for young people adopted by the Council in 2003 and to make proposals for further improvements. The idea is to promote active and responsible European citizenship on the part of young people, whose interest in public affairs is declining, with the attendant risk of a citizenship deficit.
Communication from the Commission to the Council on European policies concerning youth participation and information [COM(2006) 417 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
Youth policies serve to facilitate young people's transition into working life and develop their active citizenship at European level. The White Paper " A new impetus for European Youth " led to the adoption of a framework of European cooperation in the youth field, within which the Member States agreed to focus on four specific priorities to promote young people's active citizenship:
- voluntary activities;
- a better knowledge of youth.
National reports on participation and information were submitted to the Commission by the Member States. According to the Member States the two European priorities of "participation" and "information", to which they apply the open method of coordination (OMC), have encouraged national youth policies and remain important for the development of young people's active citizenship. But they recognise that they must continue to cooperate with each other and with their regional and local authorities if the process is to bear fruit.
This Communication analyses these reports and assesses the achievement of the common objectives in respect of the two above-mentioned priorities throughout the European Union (EU).
YOUNG PEOPLE'S ACCESS TO AND PARTICIPATION IN INFORMATION
The common objectives on information for young people are based on three points: access for young people to information, quality information, and participation by young people in information production.
Access for young people to information
Information tools are available to young people in all Member States. However, only 12 countries have opted for an information strategy which addresses all questions likely to interest young people and which encompasses all levels, from local to European.
Youth information websites are the most important information means of communication information. The European youth portal, created in 2003, establishes links with the national youth portals in 19 Member States. The Member States recognise that this portal has enhanced inter-ministerial cooperation and exchanges in the field of youth information.
The reports express the Member States' desire to:
- further develop personalised information services,
- help young people with fewer opportunities to access tools such as the internet so that they are not excluded from the society of information.
Action is above all based on issues such as free time, youth organisations and voluntary activities, while information on participation, education, employment and travelling in Europe is sometimes neglected.
England has a national online service (Connexions Direct) which offers young people information by telephone, text message, online or by e-mail. In Slovenia, youth information and counselling centres pay specific attention to the young Romany population. In Cyprus and Spain, young people in rural areas are provided with information by mobile units.
Member States aim to ensure that information for young people meets certain quality standards. Accordingly, most of them apply the European youth information charter.
Networks play an important role in improving the skills of youth information workers. The European youth information networks EURODESK, ERYICA and EYCA help in the development of training courses for their members. They have also put together a compendium of initiatives regarding quality.
In France, youth information centres have their own staff training structure to ensure that quality standards are met. National quality standards supplement the European youth information charter.
Participation by young people in information generation
Hardly any action has been taken in this field. Nevertheless, a number of reports indicate that young people can be consulted on informational strategies and on the development of information material. In Slovakia, youth information centres cooperate with volunteers who distribute information for young people mainly in schools and universities.
Obstacles and challenges
Member States encounter certain difficulties in achieving the common objectives on youth information. These obstacles can be divided into three categories:
- methodology: some Member States have emphasised how difficult it is to identify a starting point and indicators to assess progress;
- coordination between actors: it is necessary to improve coordination between the different institutions concerned with youth;
- lack of resources, particularly at local level.
The Member States intend to pursue the implementation of the common objectives. The key challenges awaiting them include improved involvement of national youth councils and focusing more on young people with fewer opportunities.
To improve access for young people to information services, the Commission considers it necessary to:
- establish global information strategies addressing all issues relevant to young people;
- promote information society tools and innovative approaches.
In the Commission's view, quality information requires:
- further development of individual counselling services;
- systematic application of the European youth information charter.
It is also necessary to enhance the participation of young people in public information strategies and reinforce the role of youth organisations in promoting youth information.
PARTICIPATION BY YOUNG PEOPLE IN DEMOCRATIC LIFE
Action to support young people's participation in democratic life is better coordinated than in the past. The means used by Member States to achieve the common objectives for participation of young people are, namely, reinforcement of frameworks, support for participative and representative structures, and support for projects.
Reinforcement of frameworks
The legal framework in the field of youth participation has been improved. Some Member States have adopted legislation and others have developed strategic action plans or new obligations to consult young people. The following countries have adopted different measures:
- Ireland: a youth law;
- Czech Republic: a youth concept;
- Portugal: a national youth reform programme;
- Sweden: a government bill entitled "The power to decide";
- Estonia and Slovenia: a strategic plan;
- Latvia: a political programme for youth;
- Slovakia: a youth participation plan.
Italy provides special funds to support youth policies.
Support for participative and representative structures
A number of actions have been implemented with the aim of supporting participative structures and promoting dialogue with partners in the youth field. However, better interaction between the local, regional, national and European levels is needed. National reports also show the need for greater efforts at local level, and it is necessary to remove obstacles affecting the participation of certain groups of young people.
Forums for dialogue between young people and decision-makers have been organised more frequently, including regular consultations, meetings and hearings.
Some countries have nominated individuals to take responsibility for youth affairs. Finland has appointed a mediator, the United Kingdom a national youth correspondent, while Lithuania has opted for municipal youth coordinators.
Other countries have developed horizontal practices (e.g. inter-ministerial meetings) or have set up consultative structures such as:
- national councils (most Member States);
- youth commissions and local youth councils (Luxembourg, Belgium);
- youth parliaments (Cyprus and Malta);
- participative structures for youth (Greece and Spain);
- structures more specifically for disadvantaged young people (Germany);
- structures for young people in rural areas (Poland);
- support structures for youth projects (Austria).
Young people's interest in representative democracy is declining, but few Member States seem to be working on remedial action. However, some are introducing arrangements to increase young people's participation in elections:
- The Netherlands has introduced parallel elections for young people;
- Finland allows voting in local elections from the age of 16;
- France has introduced automatic registration in electoral lists;
- Belgium, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have opted for use of the internet.
Support for projects
Participation by young people must be encouraged in fields where projects are undertaken, and young people must be the main actors in their participative projects. It is also essential to support relevant bodies such as youth organisations.
In some Member States efforts have been made to open up projects to young people with fewer opportunities. In France, the "Desire to do something" programme supports and rewards first projects by or for young people and finances innovative and creative projects as well as voluntary activities and entrepreneurial projects. In Denmark, the "Youth policy in Danish municipalities" project stresses the importance of involving young people more in policy-making.
The difficulties encountered by Member States can be divided into four groups:
- methodology: some Member States have emphasised how difficult it is to identify a starting point and indicators to assess progress;
- lack of direct or indirect support: it is necessary to allocate resources to structures and projects, and also to provide stable support through legislative action, partnerships with young people or common tools;
- lack of involvement of young people: although young people have the right not to participate, more can be done to encourage their involvement. Their peers could act as "ambassadors" willing to share their experience. Better recognition and promotion of the individual and social benefits of involvement would also encourage youth participation;
- inertia of institutional actors: interaction between the local, regional and national levels needs to be improved, the development of youth participation structures should be given more support, and dialogue should be organised with young people on a broader range of issues. The mobilisation of local authorities is crucial for fostering local participation by young people.
As in the case of youth information, the EU Member States aim to pursue the common objectives. They confirm the importance of using information society tools for interactive policy participation (e.g. "policy blogging") and of developing youth participation in elections.
The Commission feels that participation by young people in civic life necessitates:
- structured consultation of young people on issues that concern them. This should entail reinforcing the role of national youth councils in the consultation process;
- local participative structures and systematic involvement of young people in local decision-making bodies;
- analysis of obstacles to participation affecting certain groups of young people in order to increase representativeness;
- tools to promote participation (e.g. guidelines for participatory mechanisms).
It is also necessary to develop actions to increase participation by young people in the institutions of representative democracy (e.g. by promoting their involvement in political parties), so that young people take more part in representative democracy.
Finally, it is essential to support the various forms of learning to participate. In this connection synergies must be developed with actions undertaken in the education field. For example, at European level, closer links could be established with the open method of coordination for education and vocational training. Support for the different forms of learning to participate also necessitates better recognition of the different forms of participation by young people.
ACTIVE PARTICIPATION BY YOUNG PEOPLE IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE EU
Structured dialogue with young people on the European agenda must be improved. The Commission and Member States have agreed on the need to involve young people actively in debate and dialogue for policy-making. The European institutions and Member States have made efforts to implement these principles in practice and foster the involvement of young people in EU development, for example by preparing:
- a consultation process on the 2001 White Paper "A new impetus for European youth";
- regular encounters with youth organisations;
- a European youth week;
- consultations on the European youth portal;
- youth events organised by the Presidency;
- conferences, campaigns, forums and consultations in Member States.
However, the Commission considers that forums for dialogue with young people on European issues could be developed more and that their structures could be improved at European, national, regional and local levels.
Commission's ideas for improving structured dialogue
In order to maximise their legitimacy, debates involving young people must be as inclusive and diverse as possible. It is therefore essential to involve disadvantaged young people and those who do not belong to any structures. In order to enable a more coherent and cross-sectoral approach, these debates should also bring together actors who deal directly or indirectly with youth issues.
The Commission plans to support a permanent dialogue for a period of three years in a spirit of constructive partnership. In particular, it proposes to:
- facilitate dialogue at local level to ensure timely and effective input from young people into EU debates;
- identify priority themes to be discussed at European level until 2009: social inclusion and diversity in 2007, intercultural dialogue in 2008 and perspectives for continued cooperation in the youth field in 2009;
- create an informal forum attended by representatives of young people, presidencies, the European Parliament and the Commission;
- regularly organise a European youth week with the participation of Commissioners and representatives of other European institutions;
- arrange encounters with young people who do not usually have contacts with the European institutions;
- organise a youth-specific Eurobarometer (end of 2006);
- mobilise European information networks to support structured dialogue.
OPEN METHOD OF COORDINATION
The Commission is of the opinion that the OMC should be reinforced. In this connection it proposes that:
- Member States should single out by the end of 2006 those lines of action for participation and information on which they wish to concentrate and define action plans;
- Member States should set up a follow-up mechanism involving young people and their organisations and prepare an evaluation report by the end of 2008;
- Member States should take part, on a voluntary basis, in pilot peer reviews of information and participation;
- Member States should promote the common objectives among regional and local authorities, youth organisations and young people in general;
- the Commission itself should consult the European Youth Forum on any proposal relating to the OMC;
- a working group should define indicators for the implementation of the common objectives on participation and information.
The Council is asked to endorse the proposals set out in the Communication.