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EU and Youth Policies - Frequently Asked Questions

06 September 2007
by eub2 -- last modified 25 November 2010

As Europe's population grows older faster and the pool of young workers shrinks, the EU will rely more and more on its younger generation. According to a Commission analysis presented on 5 September 2007, young people are often insufficiently prepared to take on this responsibility. One in six young Europeans still leaves school early and 4.6 million 15-24 year-olds are unemployed. The document highlights the need, at EU and national level, to invest more and earlier in youth education and health and to improve transitions from education into work. It also stresses the importance of involving young people more in civic life, as well as in society as a whole.


The Communication, "Promoting young people's full participation in education, employment and society", has become an example of cross-sectoral approach to youth policy in the EU, covering a broad range of issues from education through to employment, and social inclusion through to health and active citizenship. It calls on the EU to invest more effectively in the young generation against the background of demographic ageing and increased world competition. It will serve as the basis for the further development of youth policy coordination in the EU.

1) Why and since when has Europe taken an interest in young people?

Today's young generation has grown up in the context of the European model and its values, and has benefited from the opportunities offered by European programmes, in particular those specifically aimed at young people.

At the same time, the European economic context over the past decade has been marked by a rise in youth unemployment, an increase in precarious employment situations, the threat of poverty, difficulties related to professional and social integration and achieving autonomy.

The relationship between young people, politics, and Europe has changed: more pro-European than their predecessors, young people have greater expectations and demands when it comes to their political and civic participation, or their professional and social integration. More generally, they want to be consulted on the future of Europe and to be associated in the development, follow-up and evaluation of policies which are being implemented to counter the new global challenges.

The framework of political cooperation in the youth field constitutes a reply to the expectations and needs of young people. The White Paper on "A New Impetus for European Youth", adopted in 2001, constitutes the founding document of the framework of political cooperation in the youth field. It proposes priorities determined by young people themselves in the context of a vast consultation process, which preceded the White Paper. This framework of co-operation has developed in response to the evolving expectations of young people, and has been reinforced since 2000; at the same time youth policy has progressively increased in importance in the European political agenda and today enjoys a visibility and impact which extends far beyond its budgetary resources.

2) What is the framework of cooperation? Which are the priorities and working methods?

The priorities relating to "citizenship" make up the first pillar of the framework of cooperation.

Following the Commission's adoption of the White Paper, Youth ministers have confirmed as priorities four major areas which are considered important to reinforce active citizenship among young people, namely participation, information, voluntary activities and better knowledge of youth.

As is the case in other areas where Community competence is limited, ministers have also adopted an open method of coordination (OMC), and have established common objectives to be attained for each priority.

The particular feature of the youth OMC is to deal with priorities during a well established cycle; national reports from Member States on participation and information from December 2005 have served as a basis for the Commission's Communication adopted in mid-2006, which itself became a point of departure for the Council of Youth Ministers' Resolution at the end of last year.

In the above mentioned Communication and annexes (Staff working document on voluntary activities of young people, Staff working document on youth employment) the Commission also provides the analysis of last year's reports by Member States on voluntary activities. In 2008 the Member States will report on progress in acquiring better knowledge and understanding of young people. A global evaluation of the results achieved in the framework of the Youth OMC is foreseen for 2009.

The process has already produced tangible results. In the field of information the European Youth Portal was created. Member states have started to prepare a set of indicators to measure progress in the participation of young people in society. Regular meetings of young Europeans with policy makers have become a part of the structured dialogue between the EU and young people. With a view to ensuring knowledge and an exchange of experiences, a "knowledge centre" (EKCYP) has been developed in partnership with the Council of Europe.

The European Youth Pact: The second pillar

In October 2004, the Heads of State and Government of Germany, France, Spain and Sweden called for "working together on the elaboration of a European Youth Pact". Youth Ministers swiftly adopted a resolution calling for the establishment of a European pact for youth, and in March 2005, the European Youth Pact was confirmed by the European Council. With the European Youth Pact, the concerns of young people regarding their social and professional integration are accordingly taken into account in European policies, particularly in the implementation of the Lisbon strategy.

The European Youth Pact regroups the measures which serve to facilitate the transition between education and employment, a transition which is becoming longer and more difficult for today's young people; these measures aim at improving the level of education and training, at providing aid for the first job and at the quality of the jobs occupied by young people, as well as at better conciliation between professional and private life. In terms of results, it is noteworthy that young people are now identified as a target group in the policies on employment and social inclusion, and that Member States are beginning to mobilise around ambitious objectives, in particular that of not leaving any young person behind.

Nevertheless, much still needs to be done as the actions undertaken have not yet lead to a recognisable improvement in the situation of youth. By adopting the Communication mentioned above, the Commission underlines that education, employment, active citizenship are intertwined matters which have to be dealt with simultaneously and horizontally; sectoral approaches have clearly shown their limits.

Taking youth into account in other Community policies: The third pillar

The third pillar of Community intervention relates to the area of youth matters, which are covered by neither the Youth OMC nor the Lisbon strategy, and where the priority lies with Community policies in which youth has a high profile, either because it plays an active role, or because it constitutes an important target population. Mobility and non-formal education have been the first areas to be developed. The same goes for the fight against discrimination, an area where young people have been actively engaged for a considerable time, and also health, which is an area where they constitute an important target group.

In these areas, the Commission has elaborated action plans, which it implements in the framework of its other policies (e.g. non-formal education and health), in certain cases together with other international organisations (e.g. the "All different, all equal" campaign where numerous actions are managed jointly between the Council of Europe and the Commission).

3) Is this framework not too rigid?

The framework of cooperation for youth policies includes a clear political agenda, which responds to fixed cycles. But this political agenda remains open for the integration of unexpected events not necessarily linked to youth policies and for seeking new synergies. There are three recent examples of this flexibility in youth policies:

  • Following the negative results of the French and Dutch referenda, an element echoing the Commission's Plan D was introduced in order to facilitate debate on the future of Europe, and to better structure the dialogue between Europe and its young citizens.
  • At the Youth summit held in Rome in March 2007 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Europe, young people from all EU countries adopted an ambitious declaration which was then put on the agenda of the EU institutions.
  • The newly adopted Communication contains several concrete proposals (regular EU report on y, Your First Job Abroad, European quality charter on internships) which came up during the consultation preceding the adoption of the document.

4) How are the opinions of young people taken into account?

The opinions of young people have been taken into account from the very outset of the political process. At the European level, the European Youth Forum is fully associated in the political process, and at national level, Member Sates consult young people during the elaboration of their national reports on the implementation of youth priorities.

The Council Resolution adopted in November 2006 established a structured dialogue with young people, which is developed with and through youth organisations, while trying to involve non-organised youth, and young people with fewer opportunities.

The structured dialogue is conceived as a bottom-up process of debates on common themes, from regional through to EU level. The first opportunity to organise a full cycle of the structured dialogue will be in the period 2007-2008; the themes of the debates will be "social inclusion in a multicultural society" and, more widely, the intercultural dialogue.

The Commission proposes in its latest Communication to seal a strengthened partnership between young people and the EU institutions by adopting a common declaration. It proposes also to associate youth organisations in the elaboration of the regular EU report on youth (every three years).

5) Which are the financial instruments of the political action?

The "Youth in Action" programme (885 million euros for 2007-2013) is the specific financial instrument in the youth field that provides support for the political processes that have been launched in the youth field at European level over the last few years.

As regards employment and inclusion, a better exploitation of the facilities offered by the Structural Funds, in particular the European Social Fund, is being sought.

In the areas of education and training, synergies with other Community programmes have been reinforced.

What is "Youth in Action" and how does it function?

Open to young people aged 15-28 (in some cases 13-30), the Youth in Action programme aims to inspire a sense of active European citizenship, solidarity and tolerance among young Europeans and to involve them in shaping the Union’s future by boosting their participation in democratic life.

It also promotes non-formal learning and intercultural dialogue among European youth, as well as the inclusion of all young people, particularly those from less-privileged backgrounds.

The Youth in Action programme encourages young people's mobility within and beyond the EU's borders, thereby giving them the opportunity to expand their horizons and gain valuable life and work experiences.

The programme funds a large variety of activities through five actions. ‘Youth for Europe encourages young people to participate in democratic life through exchanges and other initiatives. The ‘European Voluntary Service helps young people to develop their sense of solidarity by working on a voluntary project abroad. ‘Youth in the World’ promotes partnerships and exchanges among young people and youth organisations across the world. ‘Youth Support Systems’ include various measures to support youth workers and youth organisations and improve the quality of their activities. ‘European Co-operation in the youth field’ aims to involve young people actively in policy-shaping debates and a more structured dialogue with policy-makers by supporting national and transnational youth seminars as well as research and cooperation to develop a better knowledge and understanding of youth.

Compared to its predecessors, the Youth in Action programme tries to be responsive to the rapid evolutions that characterise the youth field. It therefore includes a series of novelties aimed at making it more open and adapted to the changing needs of today's young people, such as a wider age range and an increased international dimension.

Decentralised management

The mainly decentralised system of management allows for closer proximity to beneficiaries. Each participating country works through a National Agency to promote and implement the programme and to liaise with the European Commission, project promoters, and the young people involved.

A smaller number of bigger projects are managed at European level by the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency.

How to participate?

All specific criteria applying to each action are laid out in the Programme Guide of the Youth in Action Programme available in all languages on the European Commission's website (

The Programme Guide has the status of a permanent call for proposals.

Application forms can also be downloaded from the European Commission's website.

Youth in Action in figures

Duration: 2007-2013

Budget: €885 million for seven years

Geographic reach: The EU, EFTA/EEA countries, Turkey, Neighbouring Partner Countries (Eastern Europe and Caucasus, the Mediterranean region and South-East Europe) and other partner countries in the world

Age brackets: 15-28 years old (in some cases 13-30)

6) And the next steps?

From the outset, it was felt that the success of the youth process could contribute to convincing young people about the European idea, in particular by the insistence on a "human face" for Europe. It is also necessary to show the value of results and to ensure the visibility of the added value provided by the EU. Youth policy lies at the crossroads of numerous policies (education, citizenship, sport, social policy, culture, etc.) and a more global and better coordinated approach is necessary at all levels of public policy.

  • On the basis of this new Communication, several initiatives will be developed to implement its conclusions.
  • In 2008 progress in the area of voluntary services are expected. 2008 will also be the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue during which young people will be called upon to play a fundamental role. A Youth Week will be organised to evaluate the achievements of the team presidency (Germany, Portugal, Slovenia). A youth event under the Slovenian presidency will address the active citizenship of disadvantaged young people.
  • 2009 will be the year for evaluating the results of the OMC and of the Youth Pact. A new perspective for youth policy coordination at EU level will be set up, with the arrival of the new European Commission. The Commission will adopt a Communication on the priority of better knowledge of youth.

7) Is unemployment a real problem for young people in Europe today?

Yes. In fact, youth unemployment is the most worrying factor in young people's transition from education and training into work. At 17.4% youth unemployment is stagnating at high levels, well above overall unemployment in most Member States. Moreover, over the years, no real breakthrough in reducing unemployment has been achieved. In absolute figures, 4.6 million people aged 15-24 years in the EU were actively seeking employment in 2006. In addition, around 2.8 million young adults 25-29 years old were without a job. In total, young people between15-29 represented almost 40% of the total unemployed in the EU-27 in 2006.

Young people with a low level of education are generally more affected by unemployment than those with higher qualifications. A quarter of all youngsters arrive at the threshold of the labour market without sufficient qualifications. Changes in labour demand have increased the disadvantage of low qualified young people. However, in some countries even highly qualified young people experience difficulties in finding an appropriate job due to macro-economic or labour market institutions unfavourable to the entry of newcomers.

There are very significant differences in national youth unemployment rates and significant gender imbalances in some Member States mainly to the disadvantage of women, as the following figures shows:

8) What are the difficulties young people in work face today?

Young people are particularly affected by labour market segmentation. More and more young people are recruited on the basis of insecure fixed, temporary or part-time contracts. While such contracts may serve as stepping stones for young people in acquiring their first experience of work, especially when they are still in education, there is evidence that such contractual arrangements become a substitute for stable work contracts over several years. Moreover, young people often experience less favourable conditions in terms of wages and job quality. The low pay incidence is particularly high for young people (in 2004: 40%).

In the transition from education to work internships are an important instrument if they are linked to the training or study curriculum. There is evidence that internships are sometimes disguised employment with little or no pay and limited educational added-value.

9) How should the problems around youth employment be tackled?

Member States are already undertaking many efforts to tackle youth unemployment, but the results could still be improved. It would be important to provide more young unemployed with an offer for a new start at an earlier stage. At present, the vast majority of young unemployed people do not get such an opportunity within the first six months of unemployment. In many Member States, one in three young people remain jobless one year after leaving education.

There is also a need for Member States to address more systematically and more broadly the causes of youth employment problems. The Lisbon strategy for growth and jobs and the European Pact for Youth provide the context for such action. The common principles for flexicurity, in particular, can serve as a basis to review policy interventions and employment measures and to tailor them to the national situations.

Member States also have the European Social Fund at their disposal to provide young people with transition pathways from education to work, in particular in countries where vocational training systems are less developed.

Further information on youth and the EU

Source: European Commission

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