Latvian minister: Greater youth participation “beneficial” for all

Latvian Education Minister M?r?te Seile speaking at the EU Youth conference. Riga, 24 March. [Sarantis Michalopoulos]

Enhanced political participation of young people will be beneficial both for society and decision makers, said Latvia’s Minister for Education and Science M?r?te Seile, in an interview with EURACTIV.

Seile spoke to Sarantis Michalopoulos at the EU Youth Conference, Empowering Youth Political Participation, in Riga. 

What will be the added value of youth empowerment for political participation? Is boosting youth participation in political life an additional “headache” or a “relief” for decision makers?

To have young people who feel from a very early age that their voice is heard, and that they are part of their community, and feel empowered to improve it, is beneficial for society at large. Active participation of individuals, as well as the non-governmental sector in the democratic life of Europe, is essential, as it allows decision makers to be better informed in their work, and it serves as an additional and inclusive set of “checks and balances”.

Young, active citizens were in the spotlight last week in Paris, where the European Union education ministers came together. This meeting reaffirmed our commitment to such European values as freedom, democracy and equality. In a response to the terrorist attacks in France and Denmark earlier this year, and recalling similar atrocities in Europe in recent past, the ministers endorsed a declaration on promoting citizenship and common values of freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination through education.

In Europe, we highly value participatory democracy and we need to therefore cherish and protect the values that we have. This is why during its Presidency of the Council of the EU, Latvia together with the other current trio presidencies, has decided to put this issue on the agenda – to explore how we can empower young people to take a more active part in the democratic life of our countries.

Many young people consider that their recommendations in the Structured Dialogue process are not properly implemented by EU governments. What do you suggest in order to improve the monitoring of Structured Dialogue process, on a practical level?

Policy making and implementation is a lengthy process, which rarely happens from one day to the next. It is a continuous development that requires time and persistent effort. Next year, it will be ten years since the Structured Dialogue, that this unique participatory process has been in place. It has proven useful in allowing young people from across Europe to express their views on a broad number of issues entering in a direct dialogue with policy makers. To succeed with the implementation, in the future, a limited number of priorities will need to be selected and closely followed-up at local, regional, national and also at European level. On the other hand, the Structured Dialogue will always have to prove itself as an inclusive and transparent process.

The Latvian Presidency highly values the Structured Dialogue and the active participation and interest of more than 40,000 young Europeans who were involved in the consultation on how to empower young people for political participation in the democratic life of Europe. This is why during the Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council on 18 May, I as the Minister for Youth affairs, will bring this very same topic that was discussed under the Structured Dialogue consultation and during the EU Youth Conference in Riga for discussion to Youth ministers from all the EU Member States.

Youth unemployment in the EU has marginalised many young people. There are skilled young people. But these skills, one could say, are not “compatible” with the current needs of the EU labour market. What did the EU do wrong?

Despite the fact that youth unemployment and the consequences of it are high on the political agenda, youth policy has not made sufficient contribution to the work of other sectors. Education, employment, social affairs and health – all of these sectors with high potential to improve the prospects of young people – don’t always work side by side in a way which maximises results.

Nevertheless, realities out there, in the European countries are pressing. Over 5 million young people under the age of 25 were unemployed in the EU-28 area in the second quarter of 2014. This represents an unemployment rate of 21.7%, while (the) NEET (young people not in education, employment or training) rate was 13%. Although there have been some improvements, these numbers remain still very high.

The main concern is each young person who, despite their efforts, are not able to use their potential and earn a living. Skills mismatch is a minor element in this situation, where the main issue remains a lack of jobs and not enough new workplaces. However, while our economies are recovering, we still need to do our best to offer opportunities for our young people that allows them to keep their skills up-to-date, be involved and included in society.

Nowadays, “uncertainty” for their own future is EU young people’s main concern. What is the main message you would like to send for the years to come?  

Young people hold the key not only to a better future, but also to the present. Their active participation, their energy and dedication, are of importance.    

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