Illustration by Daniela Nunes


50 years of the Council of Europe youth sector

 by Mila Lukic 


The Council of Europe has always considered young people to be those who continuously challenge the status quo to bring about positive change to European society and promote Council of Europe values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

In 1972, a building with a plain yet noticeable façade that mirrors its environment, a recognisable entrance, nowadays marked with a heart, and a spacious green lawn always busy with youth groups doing energiser activities, was built as the foundation of what is today known as the European Youth Centre in Strasbourg (EYCS). That year marks the beginning of the Council of Europe Youth Department, a section of the largest intergovernmental organisation in Europe which provides educational and financial support for international youth activities aimed at promoting these values. 2022 celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Council of Europe youth sector and we are now looking back on everything that has been achieved towards creating an environment for participatory and inclusive policy making despite various challenges faced along the road.

Fifty years of existence indeed bear a lot of fond memories, many accomplishments and  milestones, as well as obstacles, challenges and hurdles faced by thousands of (young) people who have once been (or still are) a part of the Council of Europe Youth Department. So, let’s take a journey into the past and reminisce about all that has been achieved over the last half-century.


 Living and breathing democracy 

One of the most important achievements of the Council of Europe was the establishment of a unique example of participatory democracy – the ground breaking co-management system, a space where youth representatives meet with governmental representatives to jointly reflect on young people’s situation and needs in Europe and Council of Europe member states, take common stands on important matters, co-produce youth policies and opinions, and provide recommendations to the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers. But this is so much more than pure space for co-creation and joint work. Co-management enables young European voices to have an equal say, in other words, their word is weighed as much as the voices of  governmental representatives. It enables meaningful participation of young people who are consulted and listened to in steering the European youth policy development. By combining the strengths of youth leaders and public authorities, co-management provides an opportunity for exchange and learning, thus advancing not only dialogue between the participants, but also mutual trust and understanding, leading ultimately to better policy making.

Co-management is practised in the Joint Council on Youth (CMJ), composed of the Advisory Council on Youth (CCJ) (30 young representatives of European youth organisations/networks and national youth councils) and the European Steering Committee for Youth (CDEJ) (governmental representatives of Council of Europe members states in charge of youth affairs). Thanks to the dialogue between the CCJ and CDEJ, we can witness democracy being fully realised through the sharing of ideas and opinions, in a spirit of mutual understanding and respect, giving legitimacy to the CMJ decisions.



 Texts that make a difference

Speaking of decisions, you are probably wondering what CMJ has done so far, and how that affects you as an individual or helps your youth organisation or public institution in everyday life.

Well, CMJ decisions (adopted by and enforced through the Committee of Ministers) have been shaping European youth policy in many ways, creating a supporting environment for young people to flourish, learn, exchange and constructively criticise. CMJ opinions have addressed many areas relevant to youth – from participation, education, mobility, social inclusion, gender equality, access to fundamental rights, all the way to youth work, digitalisation, climate change and civic spaces. Some of the pioneering recommendations include those concerning the lowering of the age of full legal capacity (CM/Res(72)29), integration of young people into the world of work (CM/Rec(79)3), and youth participation and the future of civil society (CM/Rec(97)3).

With a view to promoting education as the enabler of human rights protection and a defence against the rise of violence, racism, extremism, xenophobia, discrimination and intolerance, the European Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education (CM/Rec(2010)7) was adopted, which recognises the pivotal role youth organisations play in supporting young active citizens and human rights defenders, particularly through non-formal and informal education. With an aim to better promote and ensure access to rights for all young people in Europe, the Committee of Ministers adopted the Recommendation on young people’s access to rights (CM/Rec(2016)7) which puts into focus taking a co-ordinated approach to developing policies to tackle multifaceted identities and the intersectionality of discrimination faced by young people.

Marginalised youth groups have also been at the heart of the Council of Europe to enable their access to fundamental rights, social protection and equal political, economic and social participation. Among others, there are two texts that reflect the needs of youth from disadvantaged neighbourhoods and young refugees, which encourage member states to base their policy making on evidence reflecting the specific needs of these young people. The former, so-called Enter! recommendation for the first time in Council of Europe history brought light to the need for policy responses based on social rights to situations of exclusion, discrimination and violence affecting young people in Europe. The latter recommendation on supporting young refugees in transition to adulthood invites governments to give due consideration to the specific needs and situations of young female and male refugees, who are among the most vulnerable groups, enabling them access to their rights and recognising the role of youth work in building social cohesion and inclusion. This recommendation is part of the Council of Europe's Action Plan on Protecting Refugee and Migrant Children in Europe 

As for more recent recommendations, the one that should be highlighted is the youth work recommendation (CM/Rec(2017)4). This long-awaited milestone recognised the instrumental role that youth work plays in supporting young multipliers and youth organisations in adhering to human rights, democracy and the rule of law, and called upon member states to invest human, financial and other resources into youth work policy and practice, provide an enabling environment and conditions for youth work development, strengthen the role and recognition of youth work on national levels and facilitate intersectoral co-operation between youth work and other sectors. Furthermore, the latest recommendation adopted is on protecting youth civil society and young people (CM/Rec(2022)6), which recalls the changing social and political environment in which (youth) civil society functions, specifically reflecting on obstacles and limitations imposed on youth organisations and youth activists in certain countries in Europe. It recommends that member states “identify and address threats to youth civil society and to ensure that all young people and youth civil society can engage meaningfully with and in democratic political processes”.

Last but not least, in January 2020 the Committee of Ministers adopted the Youth Sector Strategy 2030 CM/Res(2020)2, which represents a broad political roadmap for all Council of Europe member states on implementation of the Youth for Democracy programme in the next decade. It puts forward four priorities: revitalising pluralistic democracy, young people’s access to rights, living together in peaceful and inclusive societies and youth work, aiming to broaden participation of all young people, ensure their rights are exercised and protected, and deepening further youth knowledge and co-operation among all stakeholders.


 Quality and participation at the heart of the Youth Department

Apart from formal documents, different guidelines, tools and approaches have been developed in the Youth Department in order to facilitate the policy-making process, educational activities and dissemination of achieved results. For example, there are standards for quality youth policy development and a self-assessment tool that helps public authorities self-evaluate and improve their policy-making processes.

Moreover, quality is also an important element of all educational activities carried out in the Youth Department and by its beneficiaries. For this purpose, in 2016, the Programming Committee on Youth (CPJ) adopted quality standards in education and the training activities of the Youth Department, which have since been applied in all Council of Europe-supported and EYF-funded activities.


 Money makes youth policy and youth work advance

Did you know that you can apply for funds from the Council of Europe? While policy making was the primary reason for the establishment of the Youth Department in 1972, the Council of Europe also established the European Youth Foundation (EYF). Based in Strasbourg, the EYF annually awards up to 200 local, national and international youth organisations and networks across Europe approximately €3.8 million in areas related to access to rights, participation and democracy, digitalisation, inclusion and peacebuilding, as well as topics that emerge due to unpredicted circumstances. For example, in 2020, the Council of Europe was among the first international organisation to respond to local needs arising from the Covid-19 pandemic. The EYF launched a special call for pilot activities responding to local needs arising from the pandemic, 19 projects were awarded out of 66 applications. More recently, a special call for activities for young people from Ukraine has been published to support youth organisations in Ukraine or those working with young people from Ukraine in providing relief to young people affected by the war in their country.


 Partnerships with and for youth

Apart from the financial support, the Youth Department is also a place where continuous tailored educational support is provided for young multipliers in co-operation with youth organisations and networks in Europe. This is done through study sessions organised in co-operation with the Youth Department throughout the year. Did you know that thus far hundreds of study sessions have been organised which included more than a few thousand young people? Such activities serve as educational youth seminars and training that offer spaces for fruitful thematic discussions and learning among youth from different realities.


Study sessions, as well as youth seminars, training courses and conferences are mainly organised in the two European Youth Centres in Strasbourg and Budapest, which have been the gathering spaces for young multipliers and youth policy makers since 1972 (in Strasbourg) and 1996 (in Budapest). Every young person who has had the chance to walk into either one of these youth centres has felt the warm-hearted personnel and the cosy interior, which for some newcomers probably felt like a maze until they got used to wandering around the building stumbling upon inspiring quotes on the walls or interesting corners with exhibited projects and practices. Both youth centres play an extraordinary role in supporting young people across Europe to fully benefit from human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Partnering with the European Union for the purpose of supporting young people, youth organisations, human rights and democracy, youth work and youth policy development is also seen as one of the most important achievements of the Youth Department in the past 50 years. Established in 1998, the Youth Partnership has been the platform where youth policy, youth research and youth work are regularly discussed, reviewed, evaluated and developed through handbooks, training courses and seminars. In order to align the priorities of two partner institutions, this platform creates synergies between the policy makers, youth organisations, youth work practitioners and youth researchers, and acts as a think-tank that gathers and produces knowledge translated into applicable policies and practices.


 Campaigning for human rights and democracy

Raising awareness, dissemination and outreach play a crucial role in promoting human rights, democracy and the rule of law in the Youth Department. In the past 50 years, we have witnessed several Europe-wide campaigns focusing on different aspects of the Council of Europe’s work. Let’s quickly travel back through time, shall we?

Between 1994 and 1996, we had the first “All different – All equal” European Youth Campaign against Racism, Anti-Semitism, Xenophobia and Intolerance. A decade later (2006-2008), the 2nd “All different – All equal” European Youth Campaign for Diversity, Human Rights and Participation was organised in co-operation with member states, the European Commission, European youth organisations and other stakeholders. Both “All different – All equal” campaigns aimed at encouraging and empowering young people to participate in building peaceful, inclusive and democratic societies.

However, one of the most recognisable campaigns of the Youth Department is surely the No Hate Speech Movement with its No Hate heart logo. At the time of running (2013-2017), the NHSM was the largest campaign ever organised by the Youth Department, involving young people, policy makers, public authorities and youth organisations in 45 countries. Moreover, this was the first international initiative with a primary focus on tackling hate speech online and preserving human rights in the digital world. The NHSM campaign was youth-initiated (by the Advisory Council on Youth) and youth-led (through national campaign committees) and included both online and offline activities that reflected on emerging threats of hate speech online. The legacy of this campaign includes empowered youth human rights defenders and activists who raise their voices about the need to resolve issues related to social exclusion and discrimination in the online world. Moreover, the campaign left behind high-quality tools such as the Bookmarks publication, a manual with practical suggestions and examples of combating hate speech through human rights education.

The most recent institutional backing for upholding democracy and participation is the campaign Democracy Here | Democracy Now, another Council of Europe youth campaign for revitalising democracy and strengthening mutual trust between young people and institutional stakeholders. The campaign was launched in March 2022 with an aim to encourage member states to work with young people on promoting human rights, support their meaningful participation and use digitalisation as a democracy enabler. Symbolically, the campaign revolved around celebrating the Youth Department’s 50th anniversary and it also coincided with the European Year of Youth, doubling the effect put on young people as agents of change in 2022. Apart from national campaigns, Democracy Here | Democracy Now culminated with the Youth Action Week (YAW), a four-day event in Strasbourg with over 450 young activists from member states and beyond. The legacy of the campaign is yet to be analysed and follow-up determined, but YAW was an example of how young people best identify their own needs and adequate answers, which are summarised in the Call for Action comprising 50 priority actions, one for each year of the Youth Department’s existence. This Call for Action is concrete proof of the creativity of young people in shaping policy proposals that correspond to their realities.


 Creating memories for all young people

In only 50 years, the Council of Europe has developed many mechanisms and instruments to support young people across Europe, to help youth organisations become more involved in human rights education and education for democratic citizenship, to support youth policy makers to create, implement, monitor and evaluate their youth policy frameworks.

The Youth Department of the Council of Europe has become a place where young people are meaningfully involved in policy making and educational programmes from conceptualisation to evaluation.

The Youth Department of the Council of Europe has become a platform where the needs of young people are thoroughly discussed and adequate programmes responding to such needs are enforced.

The Youth Department of the Council of Europe has become a resource for many young activists who are encouraged to think creatively about youth policy and revitalising democracy.

Thanks to the Youth Department, the youth perspective is brought to the Council of Europe and included in the process of shaping societies in Europe.

So, thank you Youth Department, may you keep on supporting the role of youth in participatory and inclusive youth policy development for at least another 50 years!








 Issue 34

 Young people in the spotlight



Mila is a youth trainer, activist and advocate, deeply passionate about youth participation, intercultural learning, travelling and chocolate.