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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:

These three dimensions are seen as complementary, and also depend on the following conditions for the success of the policies to be pursued:

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:

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?

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:

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 :

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 :

Regarding the implementation of these rights :

More to that, youth should have :

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 :

The Council of Europe should