Participation is widely regarded an essential, if not the most important, principle of the democracies of our time, and European institutions and organisations have repeatedly emphasised the importance of youth participation to foster young people's active citizenship, to enhance their integration and inclusion and to strengthen their contribution to the development of democracy.
The strong institutional commitments to promote youth participation in Europe also constitute an effort to address the widening gap between the dramatic decline in voting turnout and diminishing participation in formal political institutions, on the one hand (European Commission 2009b: 42), and generally high interest of young people in politics, resulting in shifting and novel patterns of political engagement, on the other hand (Siurala 2004: 13). These two opposite trends are illustrated further by the paradox that, while public arenas for youth involvement appear to be more numerous than ever before, few would claim that these opportunities have amplified the participation of young people (Forbrig 2005: 7).
The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has, in its 2006 recommendation on citizenship and participation of young people in public life, underlined the function of participation for the necessary improvement of democracy and observed that participation is fundamental to social organisation and cohesion. It recommended to the member states of the Council of Europe to make youth participation a priority in their public youth policies and secure its adequate funding.
The Council of the European Union has, in its resolution on a renewed framework for European cooperation in the youth field (2010-2018), agreed that the promotion of young people's active citizenship shall be one of the overall objectives of European cooperation in the youth field in the period up to and including 2018, a framework in which participation has been identified as one of eight distinct fields of action.
The European Union's Youth Strategy "Youth – Investing and Empowering" and the Council of Europe's "Agenda 2020: The future of the Council of Europe Youth Policy" underpin these high-level resolutions and recommendations as the main institutional cornerstones for operationalising policies on participation in the youth field.
The European Union's youth strategy aims to ensure full participation of youth in society both as an overall goal and as the main objective in its 5th field of action—participation—and puts its focus on participation in representative democracy, supporting youth organisations and strengthening opportunities for learning to participate.
The Council of Europe's youth agenda aims to actively promote the development of youth policies resulting in the successful integration of all young people into society and puts its focus on young people's active participation in democratic processes and structures, and on equal opportunities for the participation of all young people in all aspects of their lives.
Embedded in the framework provided by the youth strategy and youth agenda and framed by the paradox between increasing arenas for youth involvement and changing patterns of participation, European youth policies pay special attention to initiatives aiming to strengthen the active participation of young people at local and regional level and to initiatives aiming to enhance the participation of young people with fewer opportunities. Both of these thematic foci are considered crucial for empowering young people and creating favourable conditions for them to participate actively in society.
The "European Charter on the Participation of Young People in Local and Regional Life", adopted in 1992 by the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe and revised in 2003, is one of the key instruments to strengthen the active participation of young people at local and regional level. The charter defines participation as having the right, the means, the space, the opportunity and the support to participate in the democratic life of any kind of community and provides both policy principles and instruments for enhancing young people's participation.
The European Union's work on the participation of young people with fewer opportunities is guided by the Communication "Promoting young people's full participation in education, employment and society", adopted by the European Commission in 2007. The communication states that working towards young people's full participation requires a transversal youth strategy and outlines steps in that direction, including the open method of coordination and a reinforced process of structured dialogue from local through to the European level.
Both European institutions operate a range of programmes in the youth sector in support of their policies on participation, which provide access to funding for projects aimed at strengthening youth participation and increasing the empowerment of young people. These programmes include the Youth in Action Programme of the European Union as well as the European Youth Foundation of the Council of Europe.
- Country information provided by the EKCYP correspondents
- Symposium "Arab spring: Youth participation for the promotion of peace, human rights and fundamental freedoms" 27-29 August 2012, Tunisia
- Seminar 'The role of youth participation and civil society in youth policy and youth work development in the broader Euro-Mediterranean context' 24 - 27 October 2007, Hungary
- Seminar on Diversity, human rights and participation in the framework of Euro-Mediterranean youth cooperation 1-8 October 2006, Spain
- Research seminar "Diversity - Human Rights - Participation" 13-16 May 2006, France
- Research seminar "Revisiting youth political participation: Challenges for research and democratic practice in Europe" 24-26 November 2003, France