Illustration by Daniela Nunes


The EU, young people and conflict

 by European Young Journalists: Daria Yune Elizarrarás Veenstra, Maro Samara and Yiannos Christoforou 


European co-operation started after one of the most recognised historical conflicts in Europe, the Second World War. The establishment of the European institutions was a step towards healing a collective trauma and a start in constructing a more peace building society. Since then a lot has changed, but our society today is not yet unfamiliar to the concept of crisis and conflict. The environmental crisis, Covid-19 or the invasion of Ukraine are some of the most recent and serious examples that have threatened and continue to threaten today’s world. Consequentially triggering other conflicts in different structures and levels of society. Young people are one of the groups in today’s society that are mostly affected by conflict. They receive a world  that needs change, protection and sustainable solutions while at the same time youths and their dreams need protection themselves. Youths in conflict areas find themselves in a heavily vulnerable position both within the EU borders and outside of them.

The EU has developed various direct and indirect mechanisms that try to give young people many democratic tools and opportunities to shape their future, get current support and help in the creation of  a sustainable community amongst youth. Take a journey with us and learn about young people and conflict and how the EU contributes to the topic.


 Understanding conflict through EU values

Conflict is a wide term, however, the different forms and areas of conflict are usually interconnected, and often one triggers the other. Conflict is something that accompanies humanity as people and social groups interact with each other. Understanding, manifesting, and coping with conflict also varies in each situation. Having a common ground of communication and understanding in conflict situations can be a game changer. European Union values serve as such and have proven efficient in many situations internally and externally as well.

We tend to see conflict as inherent to humanity. This statement is often used as an excuse for conflict to exist, for a lack of action. Young generations are increasingly disproving these ideas. If we look at today’s generation of youth with the support of EU tools and values, we can witness that conflict can be prevented or confronted through respect for diversity, representation, solidarity, and understanding brought together in action. The promotion of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, which are main priorities of the Council of Europe too, are key for the mediation of contemporary international conflicts, in Europe and other parts of the world.


 So, what is the role of the EU?

Growing up, young people experience various forms of conflict, and are disproportionately affected by it. Some might live in areas or surroundings where conflict is occurring or has just ended, others may be forcibly recruited into armed groups, suffer from displacement, lack access to education and employment opportunities, and experience trauma and other mental health challenges. These situations cause an impact on youth by undermining sources of stability and belonging and by interfering with their maturing processes (for example by interfering with young people's education, eroding social support systems, and ruining their prospects for employment).

In the summer of 2020 the Council of the European Union made clear that they were committed to supporting young people's participation in decision making and in roles that they can play in preventing conflict. This is also visible in the Council Conclusions on the role of youth in external action which stated that

investing in, and working with, by and for youth, is of paramount importance to build stronger, more legitimate, peaceful and democratic societies, where human rights and the rule of law are respected and where no one is left behind”.


The European Union thus plays a significant role in addressing the challenges facing youth in conflict. One key area is through its support for conflict prevention and resolution efforts. This can involve providing funding for peace building initiatives, promoting dialogue and reconciliation, and working to address the root causes of conflict. To foster the development of a more peaceful society, there are also attempts to provide young people with opportunities for active participation and leisure time activities, such as education and vocational training opportunities, promoting access to healthcare and social services, and creating opportunities for youth to participate in decision-making processes.


 The basis of youth-led sustainable, peace building in EU

The youth-oriented sustainability and peace building in the EU is ensured and led by the EU Youth Strategy. It is about engaging, empowering and connecting youths on active participation and policymaking contributions. The Strategy is based on several instruments, such as mutual learning activities, Future National Activities Planners, EU Youth Dialogue and EU Youth Strategy Platform. Currently, the EU Youth Strategy Action Plan is activated for the 2019-2027 period. 2022 was the European Year of Youth highlighting the importance of  young people to be given the space to build a better, sustainable and peaceful future. Unfortunately, 2022 was also marked by the invasion in Ukraine triggering a domino different crises. A full scale conflict had reached the EU. The European Year of Youth's legacy is still being estimated, but one of the most important initiatives taking part was the adoption of the Youth Action Plan in EU External Action to strengthen engagement with young people worldwide for 2022-2027. This is the first-ever policy framework for a strategic partnership with young people around the world to build a more resilient, inclusive and sustainable future. Together, young people and the EU have shown that the conflict doesn’t need to be occurring in our house for us to care and take action.


 Why youth work? 

As it is described by the Youth Partnership, youth work is a multiphased and complex practice that could be defined in various ways. Peter Lauritzen, Deputy Director at the Council of Europe's Directorate of Youth and Sport said the following about it:

[Youth work] is a broad term covering a large scope of activities of a social, cultural, educational or political nature both by, with and for young people.

It is clear that youth work is not a part of the conventional educational matrix. It is based on non-formal educational practices which are often designed and executed by voluntary youth workers. According to the T-Kit 12: Youth transforming conflict many of these transforming-type activities happen ‘in silence’. Meaning that there is no active attempt to resolve these conflicts. Nevertheless, youth work attempts to address this with one of its shared beliefs being the broadening of young people's lifeworld. A way to do that would be to minimize conflict through a variety of practices. Hence, addressing conflict is essential to youth work.

Conflict and its negative consequences for younger generations might bring along several difficulties. Nonetheless, with the right support we can always foster a resilience that has the potential to bloom into stronger, kinder and more caring youth communities.


 Now what?

We are aware that we do not exist in an ideal world, with our generation currently living in a perfect version of Europe. Nevertheless, while conflict is often an inherent part of our lives, we simultaneously become part of the solution.

Conflicts are always present and deeply interwoven with everyday life, making it crucial to continuously address these in a variety of ways. As discussed, the European Union plays a vital role in promoting peace and stability for youth in conflict zones. Through their various initiatives, there has been continuously developing action towards reducing the impact of conflict on young people's lives.

Overall, the EU must continue to place a high priority on youth development and conflict resolution while carrying the responsibility of how it is implemented. And we, as youth, have the responsibility of making use of these tools. Forging our way towards our collective goal of creating a more peaceful and prosperous future.


BBC, EU Comission: What is it and what does it do?, accessed 12 April 2023.

European Union, History of the European Union 1945-59,, accessed 14 April 2023.

Council of Europe, T-Kit 12: Youth Transforming Conflict, October 2012, accessed 13 April 2023.

Cambridge Dictionary, Conflict, accessed on 14 April 2023.








 Issue 33

 In times of conflict 



Daria is member of the pool of European Young Journalists 2023, writer, part-time marketing intern and full-time climate activist.

Maro is part of the pool of the European Young Journalists 2023 writing content for the European Youth Portal.

Yiannos is enthusiastic about the European Union, enjoys traveling, and loves creating engaging infographics to convey information effectively.