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The European Year of Youth – Setting a long legacy

The European Year of Youth put young Europeans, the youth in the region and the world under the spotlight. What can be seen as its legacy?

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Panagiotis Chatzimichail

The year 2022 was declared the European Year of Youth - EYY, putting young Europeans, the youth in the region and the world under the spotlight.

It all started at the European Parliament in Strasbourg - on 15 September 2021, when Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced in her State of the Union Address (SOTEU) her intention to make 2022 the European Year of Youth. As part of her SOTEU statement, she said that this would be “a year dedicated to empowering those who have dedicated so much to others…if we are to shape our Union in their mould, young people must be able to shape Europe's future.”  

Ursula von der Leyen - State of the Union Address 2021

That statement was essentially the start of what would require several EU institutions being consulted, engaging and collecting the views of young people and eventually having the European Parliament and the Council of the EU approve - just on time - that proposal on 20 December. As we are now at the beginning of the new year, it’s important to reflect on the outcomes of this process and see if the EYY was a successful in inspiring our collective Union project with the actions, dreams, hopes and insights of the new generations…”

The EU has for a long time (more than 35 years) been paying attention to young people with several strategies and initiatives, with the current focus building on the European Youth Goals, the EU Youth Strategy and of course popular EU programmes like the Erasmus Plus and the European Solidarity Corps. Yet, as we can all remember, the pandemic had a serious impact across the globe and on the lives of everyone. Quite more so for young people or other vulnerable groups disrupting their education, employment, social inclusion, mental health etc., as also reflected in the European Youth Forum's report "Beyond Lockdown: the 'pandemic scar' on young people".

Following the European Commission President's reflection and the work done by DG EAC, a framework was presented that put forward a proposal that would bring along other EU institutions, the Member States and National Coordinators, regional and local authorities, other stakeholders and young people themselves, quoting

  • “..to honour and support the generation that has sacrificed the most during the pandemic, giving them new hopes, strength and confidence in the future by highlighting how the green and digital transitions offer renewed perspectives and opportunities;

  • to encourage all young people, especially those with fewer opportunities, from disadvantaged backgrounds, from rural or remote areas, or belonging to vulnerable groups, to become active citizens and actors of positive change;

  • to promote opportunities provided by EU policies for young people to support their personal, social and professional development. The European Year of Youth will go hand in hand with the successful implementation of NextGenerationEU in providing quality jobs, education and training opportunities; and

  • to draw inspiration from the actions, vision and insights of young people to further strengthen and invigorate the common EU project, building upon the Conference on the Future of Europe.

Engaging young people meaningfully has been repeatedly highlighted across several processes. Yet this process and the diversity of young people, stakeholders and institutions that were brought on board is a strong testament. It is a living proof and a moment that decision-makers should look back at and learn from - both from its mistakes and successes. 

Diving into the EYY and the ways that young people were meaningfully engaged, it's important to understand the goals that set its framework. Driven by the EU Youth Strategy, the EYY had 4 set goals:

  • Renew the positive perspectives for young people while highlighting how the green and digital transitions offer opportunities for young people;

  • Empower and support young people, especially young people with fewer opportunities, to acquire relevant knowledge and competences and become active and engaged citizens and actors of change;

  • Support young people to acquire a better understanding of, and actively promote the various opportunities available to them, from the EU, national, regional or local levels;

  • Mainstream youth policy across all relevant EU policy fields, and encourage the bringing of a youth perspective into policymaking at all levels

To achieve those goals, institutions of the European Union and National Coordinators led or supported the creation of more than 11920 events and activities across 72 countries with youth at the core. With young people, 2022 saw a variety of new initiatives or events shifting their focus towards the momentum that EYY created. A momentum that went beyond the European Union, showcasing the need to engage young people but also how important is to provide spaces and create paths for action. Across the different events that took place, it's worth mentioning 2 key processes that were organised as part of the EYY.

First, there were 26 policy dialogues, each held by a European Commissioner that got to discuss and listen to young people's questions, ideas and concerns linked to their portfolios. Secondly, the "Level Up! Accelerating change" youth event organised by the European Youth Forum with the support of the European Commission and the European Parliament. Held at the premises of the Parliament in Brussels, bringing together more than 1400 local activists. Coming together from across Europe to share their ideas but also learn from each other across different topics linked to communication, advocacy or organising.

"Level Up! Accelerating change" youth event

Nevertheless, when talking about legacy, it is important to understand what changes this process brought. What new initiatives and actions were presented during the EYY. This period has brought forward a variety of actions and new initiatives, namely

  • Investing in Data - through A Flash Eurobarometer showcasing 58% of young people are active in the societies they live in and have participated in one or more youth organisations over the last 12 months (+17 percentage points since last Eurobarometer in 2019). Such processes showcase how important it is to use research and data to drive decision-making and policy-making. (Take a look at Youth Progress Index);

  • EU youth-enabling and youth-friendly processes - when the Conference on the Future of Europe is set up with a third of the citizens' panels made up of young people aged 16 to 25. (Take a look at the outcomes and the position of the Youth Forum);

  • Providing support - through initiatives like the ALMA (Aim, Learn, Master, Achieve) initiative aiming to help young people who are not in employment, education or training to find their way to the job market, by combining support for education, vocational training or employment in their home country with a work placement in another EU country;

  • Raising Awareness and making things more accessible - through initiatives like the European Parliament's Youth Hubfocusing on young people and being aware of the opportunities that exist for them;

  • Empowering Youth and promoting their vision beyond its borders - through initiatives like the Youth Action Plan, which aims to support the involvement of young people worldwide in policy-making;

  • Reaching out across the different levels and regions - through initiatives like the Charter on Youth and Democracy that focuses on the democratic participation of young people at local and regional levels; the national level; and the European level;

  • Learning what works, through prolonging activities that work like the extension of the Youth Voices platform and the Youth Talks beyond the EYY;

  • Making sure that there is impact - through going ahead and implementing the EU Youth Test as a way to measure impact. (the Youth Test has been also supported by several stakeholders and EU institutions, including the European Parliament). 

There is a lot to learn from this process and there is a strong legacy, if only we truly work for it. If we, together, continue building on what has been created, shared and reflected as part of this process. If we invest and empower the channels that the EYY created and the understanding that was built across different regions, institutions and people. If we take action upon the vision we asked young people to set with us.

With these and further other steps, we will not only talk about the legacy of the European Year of Youth. We will get to be part of the path it built. 

Photos in this post

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, during the State of the Union Address 2021. Photo by Dati Bendo, EC Audiovisual Service

Roberta Metsola President of the European Parliament, with young people at the Level Up event in the European Parliament in Brussels. European Union photo

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