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Member of the European Commission responsible for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth
NEETS need our help now
EU Youth Conference Opening ceremony/Vilnius
10 September 2013
We are very honoured to have with us President Grybauskaitė. Your presence, Madame President, is a strong message: it is a clear indication from the highest level of the importance that Lithuania attaches to the dialogue with young people, in particular when the discussion is about topics of such concern to them, as is the case today. This is exactly what the EU Youth Strategy wants to promote all across Europe.
From a more personal point of view, I would like to add how pleased I am to meet with a former fellow Commissioner, remembering the good relationship we had when we worked together in the College.
Now, let me welcome all participants to this Conference, which marks the second phase of the current cycle of the Structured Dialogue on social inclusion, and follows the successful meeting organised by the Irish Presidency in Dublin last March.
I would like to congratulate all those who were involved in the preparation of this event. I know they put in a lot of time and hard work.
This work echoes also the excellent participation of Lithuania in the Youth in Action Programme. Many young Europeans have come to Lithuania in recent years to take part in projects supported by the Programme.
For example, the project 'Growing up Together' has caught my attention. As part of the European Voluntary Service, it targeted youngsters at risk of social exclusion.
It gives a convincing illustration of what this programme can offer: beyond the direct benefits for the target group, it also helped the participating volunteers to acquire specific competences that they can now be put to good use for their own employment.
Another interesting project involved youth workers from various countries who came here to compare their experiences in motivating young people who are not in employment, in education or in training, by means of non-formal learning methods.
This brings me to the topic of this day: the social inclusion of this very group, the so-called NEETs -an acronym that unfortunately represents millions of young people in Europe.
In the next few days, you will look into how to prevent young people from becoming NEETs, for instance by better supporting the transition from education to work; by making it easier to access social welfare; or by addressing early school leaving. You will also look at the specific role of youth organisations and what they can do together with other partners.
The European Agency Eurofound has recently published a comprehensive study on this topic, which confronts us with a number of realities that we simply cannot ignore. Massimiliano Mascherini from Eurofound will tell us more about this important piece of research. Let me just comment on some of its striking findings.
First, the consequences of being a NEET extend over time, and go far beyond their immediate plight, including the near-certitude of continuing marginalization and the strong possibility of ongoing health problems. Unless something is done quickly, the plight of those falling into NEET status during the current crisis risks becoming self-perpetuating, long after the economy has recovered.
Second, the low levels of political engagement of these young people deserves our full attention. Trust in institutions, political engagement and social and civic participation are fundamental values that underpin our democratic societies. If we neglect them, there will be serious consequences for the social cohesion of our societies.
So yes, there is a need to act urgently, for the economic, social and civic integration of NEETs, and for action to take place at all levels. At the European level, the Council has adopted the Youth Employment Initiative, which especially targets NEETs, earmarking six billion euros for it, over and above funds already available within the support provided under the European Social Fund.
The Youth Guarantee recommends that Member States offer all young people, within four months of leaving education or becoming unemployed, a good quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship. This could be a big step forward, so we need it to become a reality across Europe. It is vital that this Youth Guarantee is quickly implemented.
As well as prevention, this conference will, I am sure, address how to tackle the re-integration of NEETs, especially those who are most disengaged and discouraged, for example after having applied for jobs in vain, after having been rejected time after time.
Yes, we know that voluntary participation in different kinds of associations is an effective way of accumulating social and human capital. It is a useful and valued experience. And yet, whereas NEETs may have the time for such activities, they all too often lack the opportunities, the resources and a clear pathway to get involved.
And even when they do get involved, the competencies acquired through informal and non-formal learning are not well recognised.
Measures to validate the real learning they achieve in this through such non-formal learning, as recommended by the Council in December 2012, are urgently needed.
The EU Youth Strategy underlines the importance of youth work. I am convinced that youth workers have a unique role in reaching out to NEETs, thanks to their informal and unbiased way of approaching young people and their ability to instil trust, even in the hardest to reach.
Youth work allows young people, also those who have already left school, to develop a sense of self-confidence, build up skills, and receive personalised support to overcome specific personal and social problems. This role deserves to be valued more as part of our effort to fight unemployment and overcome exclusion.
And the exchange of good experiences about how to build effective youth work is strongly encouraged.
I wish all participants constructive discussions at this conference and look forward to receiving your conclusions. I expect them to be reflected in the Council Conclusions to be adopted in November at the meeting of the Council of Youth Ministers. I can assure you that the Commission will analyse them carefully and engage constructively in their follow-up.
Your discussions will also be very relevant to other Council formations, most notably the Council for Employment and Social Affairs. And I will certainly inform my colleagues in the Commission about your recommendations.
Finally, let me finally say a few words about the review of the Structured Dialogue process, which I announced at the EU Youth Conference in Dublin.
We have now concluded the first phase of the review, by organising a conference in Brussels last May attended by all the National Working Groups and representatives of International Youth NGOs, during European Youth Week. The conference resulted in the adoption of 27 Conclusions relating to the future conduct and development of the Structured Dialogue.
These conclusions will serve as a background to a fully-fledged dialogue, involving all the main actors, which the Commission will organise towards the end of the year.
As I have said many times, the Structured Dialogue has been quite successful since its inception in 2010. But there are still things that can be improved. We must ensure that it reaches out to more young people, that the implementation of the outcomes is monitored better and more consistently, and that the process becomes more transparent and visible. This is where you can help!
And let us keep in our minds that the purpose of the process is to produce outcomes which are useful for policy making. The Structured Dialogue is not an instance of mere lobbying, it is a process meant to inspire actual policy initiatives, based on constructive interaction with young people and representatives of youth organisations.
It is what we make of it; now let's keep up the good work.
Thank you for your attention and I wish you fruitful discussions.