It is commonly stated that young people have been one of the most affected groups by the recent economic crisis. Youth unemployment is systematically higher than the total rate within the EU, the risk of poverty and social exclusion has shifted from the elderly to the young, and the transition from childhood to adulthood is becoming harder with new challenges for governments constantly arising – but we are still waiting for solutions to arrive. What is currently being done in the field of youth policies and is it enough? This article will focus on the current framework of policies within the EU, trying to provide a critical approach of the current measures and their outcomes.

The EU Youth Strategy 2010-18

European cooperation in youth policy is currently taking place within the framework of the ‘EU Youth Strategy 2010-18’. It’s main aim is to enable all young women and men to make the best of their potential, and to do so by ensuring the existence of more equal opportunities both in education and in the labour market. The main fields of action of the Youth Strategy include education and training – with special focus on the recognition of non-formal education – employment and entrepreneurship, and the encouragement of participation of young people as active citizens.

OECD Poverty Rate

How, and by which means or actions, are these objectives meant to become a reality? The Strategy calls for the combination of specific youth policies with cross-sectoral ones, supported by the establishment of evidence-based, pertinent and concrete measures and tools of action, as well as by the use of structured dialogue with young people and youth organisations. Most of the work should be done by the member states themselves, who are encouraged to collaborate among them, while the Commission would play a merely advisory / supervisory role.

Due to the new challenges brought up by the economic crisis, and willingness to build links between youth policy and the Europe 2020 strategy – which aims to increase the levels of employment, as well as to strengthen education policies in the EU – an additional resolution from the Council was launched in order to set a more concrete path for the years 2014-15. It focuses on the urgent need of ensuring evidence based, cross-sectoral policies aiming to resolve the increasing problem of youth unemployment as well as empowering young people towards active citizenship.

Reports on the EU Youth Strategy

The supervisory role of the Commission over the strategy includes the elaboration of a series of reports evaluating whether objectives are being reached or not. The last of these dates from September 2015, and is quite optimistic, referring to the implementation of transversal youth policies in all Member States, as well as to the fact that all of them have submitted Youth Guarantee Implementation plans. It points out, however, the fact that relevant data and evidence have not become output oriented youth policies as of yet, nor has Structured Dialogue fulfilled all its potential.

Another point of view can be found in the Shadow Report on Youth Policy, released by the European Youth Forum after consulting a total of 36 youth organisations about the implementation of the 2010-18 strategy. Most of the points and views treated through the report are complementary to those shared by the Commission, although the outcome turns out to be more critical. The Shadow Report points to the lack of collaboration at multiple levels: among states, where the strategy seems to have barely brought any improvements; within the EU, where the report points to the fact that there is no reference to the Youth Strategy within the Europe 2020 Education objective; and last but not least, according to youth organisations, the implementation of cross-sectoral youth policies is still too weak and marginal.

While one of the main focuses of the EU strategy is the implementation of evidence based policies, the shadow report points to the lack of measurable indicators and concrete action plans, making the evaluation of actions quite difficult. The Youth Strategy seems to be no more than a guiding framework for Member States, where youth policy lacks the necessary coordination between education systems and employment services. Youth organisations throughout Europe complain about the fact that Structured Dialogue is not being implemented, and that they are not being taken into account by the government.

Both the Commission and the European Youth Forum agree when it comes to the most urgent needs in the short term, which cover social inclusion, integration into the labour market and youth participation. Ensuring equal opportunities means preventing the further accumulation of disadvantages, and is the reason why equal and free access to educational and health services for young people becomes a priority. Regarding the transition from education to the labour market, policies should be oriented towards the recognition of non-formal education, as well as towards a legal quality framework for internships so that they become a learning experience which facilitates this transition, and not a synonym of unpaid work. Finally, all these policies should aim to encourage active participation and involvement of young people and youth organisations, who should not be isolated from public life and decisions.

Work is being done in the field of youth policy, and we know which direction we want to follow. However, we will never get there without much stronger collaboration: collaboration among different Member States, among different policy areas, among governments and the various youth organisations.