5th Conference of European Ministers responsible for Youth
Bucharest, 27-29 April 1998 - Conclusions of the Round Tables
Young people: active citizens in a future Europe
Human Rights – Participation - Solidarity
ROUND TABLE 1: Democracy, participation and civil society
ROUND TABLE 2: Solidarity, fight against social exclusion
ROUND TABLE 3: Human rights, Youth rights
ROUND TABLE 1: Democracy, participation and civil society
Chair : Mr H.M. TSCHUDI (Switzerland)
Researcher : Mr O. MARCOVICI (Romania)
Rapporteur : Mr J. BALAVOINE (France)
It was not the newness of the theme, which had already been dealt with several times by various Council of Europe bodies, but its continuing topicality and the issues it raises that generated keen interest among the round table participants. Attempting to understand the relationship between young people and society inevitably points up the complexity of the ways in which our societies operate, with social, economic and cultural factors interacting constantly, and also raises very direct questions about the ability of politics to safeguard and promote the conditions most favourable to democracy.
At the Chair’s request, all the speakers described their own concrete examples, while at the same time going beyond specific national considerations, thus enabling the round table to paint a comprehensive picture of public policies aimed at youth participation - and also facilitating the work of the rapporteur, for which I should like to thank them here.
As youth participation is a complex matter that is seen as involving numerous difficulties, many countries and organisations have sought through research to identify the relevant issues and young people’s expectations more clearly, as well as to assess the effectiveness of the action taken.
This research work has involved opinion surveys, scientifically developed studies of a more qualitative nature and the evaluation of measures already put in place.
It would no doubt be useful to gather together the various findings so that they could be made available to all concerned.
However, all of the above comments and findings have one thing in common: they precede, trigger or underpin policies that give priority to action. It is through personal experience that democracy lives and is constructed. Three dimensions of youth participation emerged from the contributions to the round table:
- The first, which I regard as fundamental, involves participation as the key means of ensuring that young people genuinely subscribe to the values, principles and customs on which our societies operate. To me, this seems to echo a social contract of the kind defined by J.J. Rousseau.
- The second is more institutional in nature: positive law lays down the rules for participation by young people, for instance, on the right to vote. Their exercising of the latter is crucial here, and has a significant influence on policies for youth participation. In the same way, the law lays down the rules for the representation of young people with the public and political authorities. This approach is quite vital, as it means irrefutable recognition of young people’s place in the institutional framework. From this point of view, it is necessary to check whether certain legal definitions applied to young people are still valid, as economic and social change can lead to their being seriously wide of the mark. The example of the definition of job-seekers or unemployed persons inherited from the era of full employment clearly illustrates the need to check whether legal definitions actually match social needs.
- The third dimension is social dynamism: youth participation is a means of channelling young people’s energy into a socially useful purpose, while in return they are accorded genuine recognition of their ability to play a part in shaping society.
These three dimensions are seen as complementary, and also depend on the following conditions for the success of the policies to be pursued:
- the right place for action is quite simply the place where young people live. Numerous experiments in establishing relations with local authorities demonstrate the validity of this approach, even though it should not be allowed to detract from the usefulness of also establishing relations in appropriate forms with regional and national tiers of government;
- youth participation requires recognised structures with explicit rules on representation;
- all these structures must be given a real share in the decision-making power of the authorities with which they co-operate;
- lastly, it is necessary to be able to measure effectiveness with the yardstick of young people’s time so that the results can be assessed quickly.
The discussions did not go into two particular variables that need to be taken into account if the conditions for success are to be met:
- gender: there is a need to determine whether there are any differences between the sexes here;
- age: work with children is obviously inherently different from work with young adults.
At the same time, account must be taken of the concept of progression and continuity if active learning of citizenship is to be established on a lasting basis.
Who is responsible for the policies aimed at youth participation?
- All levels of the education system, from school to university, have a role to play, especially since the demographic base of schools makes them irreplaceable vehicles for action.
- In this connection, the participants mentioned the need for basic information on the way the political system operates, as well as for trials within the education system of pupil representation and school and university councils.
- Given their objectives, culture and educational experience, the voluntary sector and non-governmental organisations can clearly play a key role in applying and developing policies aimed at youth participation. Their action should be supported not so much because of their ability to cater for large numbers of a country’s young people, but more because of their great ability to develop an awareness of young people’s needs and expectations.
What role for the Council of Europe?
The participants hoped that the Council of Europe would continue to help co-ordinate work aimed at promoting youth participation, in particular in the following ways:
- by producing co-ordinated studies on the subject;
- by publishing practical documents as keys to success;
- by devising and carrying out training activities;
- by setting up a database of the extremely varied experience in this field, as well as a documentary resource centre;
- by awarding prizes to reward and publicise successful activities, thus demonstrating the commitment of young people and simultaneously counteracting images that are too often negative.
Like the policies which are in place and are set to evolve, the above activities must be based on awareness that a serious divide is developing between young people and politicians. Even though this disaffection with politics needs to be put in perspective insofar as the language used by young people tends to exaggerate the trend, it must nevertheless be combated and dialogue between the generations must be restored.
It is by basing our actions on young people’s expectations, by respecting their views, recognising their social, economic and cultural role and having faith in them that we will be able to carry through with them the changes that are essential to the maintenance of flourishing democracies.
ROUND TABLE 2: Solidarity, fight against social exclusion
Chair : Ms. I. PLECHATA (Czech Republic)
Researcher : Mr A . FURLONG (United-Kingdom)
Rapporteur : Mr L. BRYNTESSON (Sweden)
Social exclusion is linked to education, employment and other factors such as housing. With regard to young people this means that they have to face a situation, where the transition from youth to adult life is seriously disturbed. Jobs are short, education is often inadequate and does not prepare for the labour market, the old contract between education and the labour market is gone. It coincides with a change in family pattern and generally a weakening of support structures for the young. All this opens ways to social exclusion.
In this situation, education often becomes a holding device. Life-long learning can mean a permanent creative learning process just as much as it can mean to be kept in education without any opening to the labour market. The context is more important than the content and one describes the way to professional success, the other one the may into exclusion.
The question for public authorities is, therefore, how to lessen the existing inequalities and how to create genuine access to the labour market. All measures have to be looked into : another distribution of work, part-time work, reduction of work time, temporary work, and new vocational training schemes. In order to reduce vulnerability of the young and not to permit stigmatisation it is important not only to think of differences, but to take a step back and recognise what people have in common. Thus the social networks can come into existence and may successfully work against inequalities leading to exclusion.
Any reflection on exclusion is also a reflection on inclusion. Why do the existing systems of social inclusion not work ? The doors for participation at municipal, regional and national level are wide open but few cross them. A way to combat exclusion is also to improve the mechanisms of inclusion.
The democratic principle to work constantly against social exclusion, starting from the assumption that nobody should be excluded, cannot get away from the fact, that in todays Europe there are nations with a long tradition of exclusion which will need years to open up.
Policies against social exclusion in the areas of education, leisure, care and welfare need to be preceded by a thorough discussion on values. Are the values related to individualism becoming dangerous for community thinking and for the development of solidarity?
The European Conference of Ministers responsible for Youth and delegates need not discuss items such as exclusion in only an abstract way. Youth representatives present at the Conference point to certain differences in treatment and a lack of information on facilities. They also bear witness to the activities run under sometimes very difficult conditions by NGOs combatting extreme poverty, fighting for accessibility e.g. for handicapped people and NGOs running very concrete projects with young people hit by social exclusion. Be it ATD Quart Monde, Mobility International, the European Confederation of Youth Clubs and many other youth and student organisations ; fighting exclusion and empowering minorities is on the agenda of the great majority.
Concrete examples of recent government programmes in France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Denmark show that energetic measures can quickly produce real jobs and offer trust for the future. In some countries far reaching legal frameworks allowing for non-conventional measures are in the process of being created. These programmes do not concentrate unilaterally on work only, they stimulate associative democracy, strengthen the civil society and rely a lot on non-formal education. The right mixture of rigidity and flexibility seems to be recommended for successful governmental action.
There are, again, historic facts to be respected, which cannot be done away with easily : a whole generation of « 50 year olds »occupies the interesting places in society, is the strongest consumer group and imposes its own culture. This generation risks to suffocate in its own ways and modes of being and would urgently need to learn from youth cultures how to develop new solidarities. This would be an inversion of the usual direction of learning and a badly needed one. In some countries traditions of popular learning need to be revitalised. These types of learning do not distinguish between age groups and generations and can provide the social context for the development of new solidarities.
Debates on social exclusion are also debates on participation. Co-management of certain questions concerning young people needs to be maintained and strenghtened, even if it cannot be considered a general principal for societal organisation. Young people need to be trained and they will then be perfectly able to make their own decisions. Hence participation needs to be ensured within policies combatting exclusion, but also be practised within groups of young excluded.
There needs to be memory and respect in relation to those ethnic, national and religious communities who feel that, almost in self-isolation, they are not ready to live in the « European House ». Openess of mind, patience and tolerance of ambiguity are needed to make these kinds of exclusion liveable and – in the long run – obsolete.
Discussing social exclusion does not necessarily mean developing pessimistic ideas about the future of young people. On the contrary, surveys suggest a large majority of young people to be confident in the future and happy with their lives. This is also why policies to combat social exclusion belong into the wider attitude of the Council of Europe to consider youth a resource, not a problem. This would also make the fight against social exclusion part of the overriding policy of human resource development – if no-one is excluded from participating in this process, then there is no social exclusion.
ROUND TABLE 3: Human rights, Youth rights
Chair : Ms P. AROLA
(President of the European Youth Forum)
Researcher : Mr R. BENDIT (Germany)
Rapporteur : Mr. A. TALIADOROS (Cyprus)
The debate was introduced by Mrs Pauliina Arola, President of the European Youth Forum who defined the framework of the discussion, as outlined below :
- What are human rights ?
- What obstacles are the Members States of the Council of Europe faced with when implementing human rights ?
- What obligations derive from these rights ?
- What should the Council of Europe do to improve concretely the implementation of human rights ?
From the statement presented by Mr Bendit, member of the research correspondent group of the Council of Europe, it appeared that with the modernisation of society, youth is no longer considered as a transition period but as a phase of life characterised by a strong individualisation and a will for autonomy. It also means the prolongation of education, living in their parents houses, etc... and consequently the access to autonomy arrives later, thus producing this paradox : young people become independent younger and younger from the psychological side but remain dependent on the economical side.
As regards the necessity for a special youth law, the answer of Mr Bendit was yes even if it overlaps with other laws, because if the youth phase becomes longer and longer it must be regulated by law to give the right answers to the needs of young people, in particular for housing, vocational training and marginalisation. The existing legislation in our countries is often contradictory, and we should work on the logics of youth rights. In addition, laws at national level are often complex and a legal corpus at European level could help to define clear guidlines regarding youth rights.
Finally, Mr Bendit suggested the setting-up of Ombuds persons for youth rights at European level, if national laws were not implemented.
Several issues were then debated by the participants on a various range of rights : civil, political, social, cultural and economic concerning :
- The minorities : ethnic, religious, cultural, sexual, and the disabled who often do not know and are not informed of their rights
- The rights of young refugees
- The rights of women
- The rights of young rurals
- The right to consciouness objection and the right for young conscripts to organise.
Regarding the implementation of these rights :
- All young people should enjoy basic rights
More to that, youth should have :
- A better implementation by the Member States of the European Convention on Human Rights, European Protection of the National Minorities and the Social Charter
- access to an education and information of quality
- day to day education in formal and non formal education for gender equality
- Improvement of the implementation of existing legislation in the Member States and for this purpose to submit reports on the evaluation of this implementation and exchange information.
In conclusion, the political rights and youth participation were considered as an exercise for freedom and that positive action for young people should be set up in order to improve their political commitment and increase their participation, in particular the participation of young people from minorities (national, religious, disabled young people, homosexuals and lesbian, young rurals)
As regards the minorities, Member States should be encouraged to sign and ratify the convention of the Council of Europe on the protection of national minorities which should be extended to the migrants
For the young homosexuals and lesbians, the age of consent should be the same as for the other young people.
The rights of young refugees should be better protected and respected
The rights of young women : gender equality should be a day-to-day issue in formal and non formal education, protection of young women against forced prostitution.
The social rights :
As there is a real need for economic independence for young people, solutions should be looked upon for independent housing and a possible minimum wage salary so as to allow young people to live independently and exercise their rights.
The setting up of an Ombudsman on youth rights for the improvement of young people life conditions.
A campaign on the development of social and economic rights of young people and give information on the fulfilment of youth rights in our countries to other countries of the world.
To this purpose, the group recommended that :
All the Member States should :
- respect and implement the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Convention on the Protection of National Minorities and extend it to young migrants, the revised European Social Charter
- exchange examples of good practice and legislation in order to reduce or eliminate the obstacles to a good implementation
- examine and solve the contradictions concerning the different ages for access to rights
- develop human rights education and training in formal and non formal education
- respect the right to conscientious objection and develop civil service
- promote the monitoring of the European Convention on Human Rights
- continue the discussions on this subject in the Council of Europe
The Council of Europe should
- organise a study among Member States on age limits
- organise a campaign on the development of social and economic rights of young people.