Future of Europe: 10 tips for the old continent from its youth

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

"We are the most pro-European generation and have the potential to be the driving force of this project."

Young Europeans do not need short-term, tokenistic initiatives but long-lasting and sustainable solutions that make a real impact, and these need to be developed with our input. We are the most pro-European generation and have the potential to be the driving force of its future, writes Anna Widegren.

Anna Widegren is secretary general of the European Youth Forum

“Youth” has become a buzzword for politicians in Europe and beyond who want to talk about the future. If we are the future, it makes sense to involve us in the decisions shaping it. We have 10 solutions to make Europe a better place for all.

1/ Europe at the forefront of Sustainable Development

If Europe’s recent track record in crisis management proves anything, it’s that we can’t operate under ‘quick fixes’. Unsustainable practices have put young people’s future at risk. The future is not only tomorrow but all the days thereafter. We need to think about the big picture!

Social, economic and environmental justice are the foundation of the Europe we want. The European Union must play a leading role in implementing the Agenda for Sustainable Development.

2/ Invest in Europe’s biggest success story (yes, it is Erasmus!)

No one can question the benefits of Erasmus: cultural exchange, European citizenship, tolerance and boosted employability. But Europe should not limit itself to celebrating its success: it needs to be more ambitious. The Erasmus+ programme only represents 1.36% of the EU budget (which totals about €1,000 billion). Imagine what we could do with 10 times that amount? Let’s invest more in a programme for all young people in Europe!

3/ Tackle the root causes of inequality

Even though it is 2017, young people’s social, economic and ethnic background still determines their chances to access quality education and jobs.

Inequality is the number one concern for young Europeans. Europe is founded on values of equality and solidarity but these cannot be empty statements. We need preventive measures addressing the root causes of inequality to not only build a fairer and more inclusive Europe but also to empower young people to reach their full potential. A social Europe for all must become the new cement of what unites us.

4/ Quality jobs for all

Youth unemployment rate in the European Union may be decreasing but non-standard forms of employment are on the rise: unpaid and unregulated internships, the near-disappearance of entry-level jobs, increasingly widespread zero-hour contracts are hindering young people’s chances to become fully autonomous, active citizens.

Funding for initiatives such as the Youth Guarantee must continue to ensure quality offers and increased access for more marginalised groups of young people. 

The nature of work is changing and this can be a good thing if we ensure that the social foundation of work evolves with it for the benefit of all.

5/ Act for climate

Young people will bear the brunt of the consequences of climate change and yet they are marginalised in the political processes affecting them.

Climate change must be the topmost priority for the European Union, requiring a seismic shift from unsustainable economic practices to ones that will take into account current and future generations. This can only happen when young people’s talent, knowledge, and energy are fully harvested.

6/ Quality volunteering for all

Volunteering plays a vital role in our societies, fostering a culture of participation, personal, professional and responsible development as well as active citizenship in Europe. Ensuring quality volunteering opportunities to all young people in Europe is therefore key.

Last year, the European Solidarity Corps was announced as the flagship initiative of President Juncker and it was a welcome announcement to create more opportunities for young people.

However, in order for it to be a success, here are simple conditions: involve youth organisations and ensure quality offer for both volunteering and occupational placements. That’s the way for a better European Solidarity Corps!

7/ Protect the rights of refugees and asylum seekers

The flow of people fleeing war has made the headlines for a couple of years now. Young people and youth organisations have been at the forefront of welcoming refugees in Europe, ensuring their inclusion in our society.

European values of respect for human rights and tolerance cannot be applied asymmetrically. European leaders in all member states must follow the example set by civil society and act urgently to ensure the protection and integration of refugees and asylum seekers.

8/ Europe: the fabric of active citizens

Citizenship, democracy, and human rights are fundamental concepts in Europe. Every citizen has rights, duties, and opportunities to contribute to the life of our society. This goes hand in hand with citizenship education.

Essential in formal settings, citizenship education is also at the core of the work of youth organisations, providing young people with critical thinking and competences needed for meaningful participation in society.

The European Union should encourage measures to ensure quality citizenship education for all. Europe’s future relies on active citizens.

9/ Mainstream the youth perspective in policy-making

You wouldn’t make a decision for business without consulting businesses: why do so for young people? We need more and better youth policies across all sectors, with young people having a say in them all.

A “youth-check” of all European policies affecting young people would allow for the mainstreaming of a (much-needed) youth perspective, improving these policies together with young people and enhancing their legitimacy and long-term vision.

10/ Be participative: consult with youth and civil society

Good policies are those made with the input of everyone affected. While the channels of representative democracy are essential, institutions and governments also need to encourage participation of citizens.

Europe needs to go beyond the tokenistic involvement of young people in its decision-making. Value and incorporate our input, by consulting with young people, their organisations and other civil society bodies. This is the way forward for more democratic and inclusive policies.

For more: the vision of young people for the Future of Europe and contact the European Youth Forum.

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