An EU Youth Strategy that actually makes a difference

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

Young people today have what it takes to ensure the survival of the EU. [DenisFilm/Shutterstock]

“Young people are the future!” – isn’t that a no-brainer! When meeting politicians, we often find them paying lip service to this mantra. But if you tell someone that they are the future, doesn’t it simply mean you are putting them off, Luis Alvarado asks.

Luis Alvarado is president of the European Youth Forum.

Today, we are the generation that is anxious, angry and cynical about the future being offered to us. The generation that starts to say: enough!

How will our EU leaders, meeting in Rome on 25 March, live up to all their grand declarations – including Juncker’s pledge to make youth a top priority? Many argue, and rightly so, that politics has not worked out so well for young people recently; that we are on a collision course. Crises are many: from unemployment, poverty and marginalisation, to racism, fake news, and climate change … Ugh, the world seems to be spinning out of control. How can we avoid that impending doom?

Europe needs to wake up. 60 years after the Treaty of Rome we have to choose. Do we want a union that feels anything but united or one where people share a common EU identity in addition to their national and regional ones? I am a fervent believer that this is a chance to reinvent the ways in which we live and who better to turn to than what The Economist termed the “generation most intolerant to intolerance”, to build the inclusive and tolerant communities of tomorrow?

If not with us then who?

But while political leaders keep youth on their lips, very little space is actually given to us to contribute to policies that affect us. Last year, the Commission announced the European Solidarity Corps with bravado as if it was the solution to the crises young people face. As if it was a new idea. But this ignored the fact that youth organisations have been providing volunteering opportunities since before Juncker even came of age. Then why appropriate our work and brand it as if they were saving the day? Saving us from what exactly? We did not ask for this project and youth involvement was merely an afterthought. The lack of genuine consultation makes us question if these policies are just window dressing, or if the Commission will keep its promise not to redirect funding from other youth programmes.

Did you know the EU had a Youth Strategy?

Yes, there is strategy for young people and a new one is in the works. However, tucking youth away in one department (DG EAC – Youth Unit) simply doesn’t cut it. We all might be very surprised, myself included, at the actual amount the EU invests in young people. Wouldn’t it be powerful to look across the EU’s budget, to find out how much investment is actually intended for young people? Not only this would save taxpayer’s money and use it in a more efficient way, but it would also allow us to tackle real deep-rooted issues with young people. Transversal, cross-sectorality? Does that ring any bells?

Member states asked me a few months ago during the Youth Working party sessions at the Council of the EU, “What is your understanding on a new and innovative EU Youth Strategy.” I gave the same reply that I gave to the Commissioner for Youth, Tibor Navracsics. A revolutionising and innovative EU Youth Strategy is not a siloed document like the one we have now. If we want to innovate we need young people of our generation to be a concern for all ministers. We need finance ministers to keep track of all spending that benefits young people, across policy areas and have a real measurement and quantification of how much money the EU invests in young people. We need macro and cross-sector data on youth. We need finance, environment, justice, employment and foreign ministers to put young people at the core. It’s 2017! We need to coordinate and talk to each other.

One of the main problems the EU has when it comes to young people’s rights and needs is not a lack of investment. There is more than enough investment intended to reach young people.

The problem is that these investments are being done in the wrong way, without being coherent and coordinated. And all of this needs to be done by inviting young people and youth organisations to the table so this generation takes ownership of the challenges in our communities.

The EU Youth Strategy could be the magic tool to do this. A lens which will allow us to ensure that the right departments are involved, that the right priorities are addressed in every euro invested in youth and the strategic goals are being met. A tool cutting across institutions and departments.

An alternative Europe is possible. But only if we break down policy silos. If young people matter, dare to trust in us, invest in us and include us, and let’s draw the big picture together.

Let’s make the new strategy the EU’s Magna Carta on Youth – not a document, but a framework, a tool allowing us to connect the dots across departments, areas, sectors and silos.

We reject being merely a future. Dare to bring us to the table and dare to hear our new, fresh and radical ideas. You might learn a thing or two.

We are the first pro-European born generation and if you give us the space, we can save this Union from falling apart. Inspiring this generation is the last chance the EU has to ensure its survival and to thrive together, to become the global leader we want it to be.

This is why on 25 March, we will also be in Rome to march for the #EuropeWeWant, with the support of 230 civil society organisations, to deliver our EU leaders a clear message.

We will stand up for a Europe that is hopeful. We may be cynical about what politicians offer us, but we want to shake the very foundations of this union and #YouthUP Europe.

Read more about the #EuropeWeWant.

Subscribe to our newsletters