Contemporary issues in youth policy

Participation, as enshrined in international human rights instruments as well as in the Treaty of the European Union, is a fundamental right where people should be able to have a say and influence on issues that affect them them, including young people. This applies to all areas of a young person’s life, from the family, school, local communities, public services, and wider government policy. Spaces for participation relate to the opportunities to exercise this right, and together with voice (skills and competencies), audience (those with power listen), and influence (taken seriously by those in power), comprise the fundamental components of what can be thought of as meaningful participation. Youth organisations and youth programmes are an important vehicle for participation, typically focusing promoting and ensuring young people's democratic and social rights; encouraging their social and political participation at all levels in community life; and offering opportunities for personal and social development through leisure activities, voluntary engagement and non-formal and informal learning.

Roger Hart’s 1992 “Ladder of Participation” for young people’s participation(which was built upon Sherry Arnstein’s 1969 “Ladder of Citizen Participation”) is a classic model of participation that places participation on eight rungs of a ladder, starting at the bottom with manipulation and tokenism, and ending at the top with youth-initiated, shared decision-making with adults. Various other participation models have proliferated throughout the years, including many with a specific focus on youth participation.

Participation is not only about political participation, meaning when a young person, acting as a citizen, engages in the public realm to affect change in a policy, law, or politics and society more generally. It is also about a young person’s right to participate in judicial or administrative proceedings that affect them, such as adoption or divorce proceedings in the case of minors, or playing a part in the projects and programmes that are designed for them, such as participating in the planning of a programme targeted at young people, or providing feedback in the monitoring and evaluation of a youth programme, as it is the case in the Council of Europe youth sector, that applies the principle of co-management. Therefore participation applies to young people both as individuals and as a group, in decisions affecting their individual lives, as well as those that affect them as young people generally.

Youth participation in formal and institutional political processes is relatively low across the globe, particularly in comparison to older citizens. Figures from the European Social Survey in 2013 indicate that voter turnout in preceding national elections was over 17 per cent higher for older respondents than for the younger cohort sampled. As identified in the European Commission’s (2015) recent report, Their Future is Our Future: Youth as Actors of Change, “[t]he young are dissatisfied with our current democratic systems that tend to exclude them from decisions affecting their lives now and in the future”. Feelings of powerlessness and marginalisation among youth voters, whereby there is a perception that political systems are closed to young people, are resulting in few opportunities for youth to intervene effectively with the political process.

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 Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union as well as the European Youth Foundation of the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe Committee of Ministers has produced a number recommendations for member states covering citizenship and participation of young people, participation in local and regional life, youth civil society and the role of national youth councils in youth policy development.

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This page was last updated by Cristina Bacalso and Dan Moxon in Dec 2018
and includes text taken from Bacalso, C., 2017, "Themes",
Symposium: Youth Policy Responses to the Contemporary Challenges Faced by Young People,
EU-CoE youth partnership and the Chairmanship of the Czech Republic of the Council of Europe, Prague, Czech Republic, 12-14

Young people’s views Young people’s views

 Youth Goal #1 “Connecting EU with Youth”, calls for Europe to:

Foster the sense of youth belonging to the European project and build a bridge between the EU and young people to regain trust and increase participation.

The goal identifies that “an increasing number of young people lack trust in the EU, encounter difficulties in understanding its principles, values, and functioning. Democratic deficits in EU processes have also been identified as one of the reasons for rising euroscepticism among young people.”

 Youth Goal #9 “Space and participation for all”, calls for Europe to:

Strengthen young people’s democratic participation and autonomy as well as provide dedicated youth spaces in all areas of society.

The goal identifies that “young people are underrepresented in decision-making processes which affect them although their engagement is crucial to democracy. They need access to physical spaces in their communities to support their personal, cultural and political development.”