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Member of the European Commission responsible for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth
Celebrating 25 years of EU support for Youth
European Youth Week- CHARLEMAGNE Building/Brussels
31 May 2013
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for joining me to celebrate the 25 years of EU Youth Programmes: Youth for Europe, Youth and, now, Youth in Action. 25 years, roughly a generation later, youth participation has become an acknowledged and appreciated component of EU support programmes.
To better understand the origins of EU youth programmes, let me take you back to the year of the launch of the first programme, 1988. We were still unaware that we stood at the dawn of a new Europe. Still deeply divided, Europeans from east and west would soon be able to cooperate together in a free, democratic Europe. In 1988, Europe was seeking its way out of an economic crisis, youth unemployment stood at around 20%.
A Eurobarometer among young people, from a year earlier, stated that - and I quote - “The social integration of young people, in all its multiple facets appears more and more to be one of the principle problems of European societies; (…) young people during this period of their life encounter difficulties in participating fully in the economic and social life of their respective countries.”
A more united Europe was not the first thing on young people’s minds. Young people were less knowledgeable than adults about the European Community. Only one in three had ever been abroad. In this context, a programme to promote youth participation in a European context was highly appropriate. In the ensuing years, given the democratic transitions in Central and Eastern Europe, the programme reached out to far more young people than initially imagined.
Today, as 25 years ago, youth unemployment is again a great concern. Europe is taking serious measures to find its way out of the crisis. Broad endorsement for the EU’s role in this is essential. President Barroso recently said that European integration must be pursued openly, transparently and with the explicit support of the citizens of Europe. I fully agree and young European citizens should be part of that.
From the recent Eurobarometer survey among young people and the study on youth participation that we recently published, some points deserve our attention.
First, young people want to participate. They score highest in terms of considering themselves EU citizens; almost 50% stated to have a positive image of the EU. However, young people say that the political system is neither sufficiently listening nor sufficiently adapting to their needs.
Second, a group of young people participates much less. Respondents who do not participate in community activities or organisations, are less likely than their more active peers to consider standing as a candidate in a political election at some point in their life - 14% versus 23%. They are also less likely to vote in the European elections next year - 57% versus 70%.
A recent study on young people not in employment, education or training found this “NEETs” category to be less interested in politics, less ready to vote and less engaged in social participation.
Given the above, I see a clear danger that unemployment, poverty, disengagement and the lack of effective upward channels of communication to political actors lead to polarisation, disengagement or extremism.
I will leave it to others to speculate about the future, but based on these findings, I will not allow a trend to set in whereby young people no longer believe in the European project, turn away from politics or feel that democratic institutions, including the EU, have nothing to offer to them.
We need to provide the conditions for young people to be genuinely involved in decision-making. We have to ensure that no one is left behind, paying special attention to young people hit by the crisis or having fewer opportunities, due to personal circumstance.
We will take this up under the EU Youth Strategy. We will develop, with our colleagues in Member States, a Medium Term Work Plan to ensure a more coherent and result-oriented approach. We have already initiated a review of the Structured Dialogue with young people: earlier this week, representatives of National Working Groups discussed possible improvements, including increasing outreach and monitoring follow-up.
We will also respond through our future programme which, in the seven years to come, will offer increased opportunities for volunteering, youth exchanges and other forms of participation for young people. It will also offer increased possibilities of training and networking for youth workers and youth organisations.
We are finalising our programme and we will now refine the concrete actions. To do so, we will, as in the past, rely on your experience. I am looking forward to your views, on youth participation, on 25 years of EU youth programmes, and on the future ahead.