Member of the European Commission responsible for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth
Fighting unemployment & boosting youth participation
EU Youth Conference
Soroe, Denmark, 19 March 2012
Dear Minister, colleagues, friends,
It is a real pleasure for me to be here with you today to open the EU Youth Conference. This year's conference completes the second stage of our Structured Dialogue on youth participation, and I would like to thank the Danish Presidency, and in particular Minister Antorini, for the good work and excellent co-operation in this area – and for choosing to host this conference in such a beautiful and inspirational setting.
Youth participation is what this conference is about; it is the core objective our EU Youth Strategy. Essentially, we are trying to encourage and enable all our young citizens to participate fully in society, and to give them a say in shaping the different policies that affect them.
That is why I, as European Commissioner in charge of education and youth, am fully committed to dialogue with young people. And this conference is indeed an excellent occasion for young people to meet policy-makers and to have their say in shaping EU Youth Policy.
I was pleased to learn that more than 20.000 young citizens took part in the consultations which preceded this conference. That is 60% more than the last conference, so - well done. It is absolutely crucial that young people become involved as much as possible in policy and decision-making on issues which will determine what kind of Europe takes shape in the future – greater involvement of young people now is vital for the fairness, legitimacy and sustainability of decisions.
I am also pleased to learn that on-line techniques of consultation were employed by most of the National Working Groups managing these consultations. We must make full use of new technologies, and young people should be the first to embrace their potential.
As I proposed at the Warsaw Youth Conference, we must stretch the Structured Dialogue's reach so that the greatest possible number of young people can participate.
Increasing the number of young people involved will lend further credibility to the process, allowing it to reach beyond those who are already actively engaged. It is the silent mass of young people that we must reach out to, in full awareness that their passivity at this time of difficult policy can all too easily turn into alienation. Every voice deserves to be heard.
I am very pleased to see that one of your workshops will deal with how to engage with non-organised young people, and I look forward to receiving constructive proposals from you in that regard.
There is another point I am happy to make today. I promised that we would develop the European Youth Portal to enhance the visibility of Structured Dialogue, and you will now find pages on the Portal devoted to it. This content will continue to be developed and will soon include functions which National Working Groups can use both in their consultations and in their efforts to reach out to more young people.
I am also pleased to announce that towards the end of this year the Commission intends to organise a conference for all National Working Groups, to demonstrate and discuss these new facilities.
The conference will build on the positive experiences we gained from our Dialogue during last year’s Youth Week, where we met together and framed recommendations about how to improve the Dialogue for the future.
The Lisbon Treaty’s new article 165 on youth participation provides a stronger than ever commitment on the part of the EU to building youth participation.
When we meet again at the next Youth Conference in Cyprus in September, I hope to share with you first outcomes of the study of youth participation, which will guide us in the Commission on how best to implement the new Treaty provision.
I know that many National Working Groups have asked for assurances that their national contributions are taken on board by policy-makers. I can assure you that, as far as the Commission is concerned, we do exactly that – in fact, I can give you a recent concrete example, linked to an issue which is of the utmost importance for young people:
The Commission proposed – and the European Heads of State and Government recently agreed - to reallocate unused EU structural funds to efforts to combat youth unemployment in the eight Member States where the problem is most dramatic.
This stems directly from our last cycle of Structured Dialogue devoted to youth employment. We made sure that the relevant Commission services were fully briefed on the three phases of consultation with young people conducted in these eight Member States. This is a real and concrete outcome of Structured Dialogue on an issue of vital importance to young people.
Our response to youth unemployment – without question, Europe's number one social policy challenge - is to invest more in young people, to equip them with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the labour market. Maintaining investment in modernized and relevant education and training – even at this time when public debt must be cut - gives the best chance to ensure employment and growth –this is the message we are sending to Member States.
It is also a message strongly conveyed by the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) - the Commission's proposal for the period 2014-2020.
Concentration, simplification, the pursuit of EU added value are its key principles. This is why we propose to allocate a significantly higher share of resources to education and training. Our new EU programme for education, training, youth and sport "Erasmus for All is a central element of the Commission's proposal.
It is fully in line with the Europe 2020 strategy for growth and jobs and economic recovery and is meant to achieve systemic impact in areas that we all agree are crucial for Europe's future.
But coming back to today's conference - the Danish national priorities of creativity, innovation and talent will be very much the focus of your debates here in Soroe.
Talent development, creative skills, entrepreneurial mindsets and cultural expression should be encouraged and fostered among all youth - these are among the areas we tackle in the current Youth in Action programme as well as in our future Erasmus For All and, incidentally, also in the other main proposal from my portfolio, for the future Creative Europe programme.
You will also be looking at how we can increase the participation of young people in democratic society and will debate whether lowering the voting age could be a desirable option.
This is very much "national territory" under the principle of subsidiarity, and the EU has no competence in such matters but we re happy nevertheless to facilitate this reflection.
Voting in elections is not the only way of participating in society, but we only need to look at the modest participation in the last European elections to understand that we must find ways of engaging better with all citizens, including young people.
The Soroe Akademi, where we are gathered today, has inspired for centuries many famous Danish scholars and poets. I hope it will inspire all participants, young and less young, to innovative and creative reflection, which can lend support to developing youth participation.
I very much look forward to receiving your recommendations, and I can assure you that we in the Commission will listen carefully to what you have to say.
I wish you all a very successful conference and a constructive Structured Dialogue.