Enter! Youth Week – OUR LIVES, OUR RIGHTS
Chair of the Youth Council,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to welcome you all to the official opening of the Enter! Youth week here in the Palais of the Council of Europe.
The composition of this panel of speakers is an indication of the seriousness with which we take young people’s rights in general – and their social rights in the specific context of this campaign.
Each one of us has advanced that cause, in our own way, and in our own professional lives.
And each one of us is here today not only to speak but to listen to what you have to say.
The European Social Charter spells out our social rights; social rights that are – like all human rights – universal, indivisible and interdependent.
The right to decent housing, and quality education, and proper healthcare, and social security and employment – all of these are important aspects of protection against poverty.
And, in the particular case of children and young people, there are rights to specific social, legal and economic protections too.
These rights are not an indulgence – they are the basic necessities for living a decent life with dignity and opportunity.
Nor are they designed for a select few.
Where countries have adopted them, they are there in law for the benefit of every single person.
Male or female, young or old, rich or poor.
And where any group, or any individual, does not have those rights in practice, we must ask why that is, what we can do to fix it, and to which institutions we can appeal – and this is where the the European Social Charter’s Collective Complaints Mechanism is so important, enabling NGOs to seek remedy where wrong is established.
It would be to Europe’s benefit if all of our member states were to join it.
Back in 2012, our Parliamentary Assembly considered some of these issues in its report The Young Generation Sacrificed: social, economic and political implications of the financial crisis.
And in 2015, our Committee of Ministers adopted a clear recommendation.
Addressed to governments, it acknowledged the difficulties that often exist when it comes to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds getting effective access to their social rights.
It stated – rightly – that such access is a “prerequisite for the inclusion and active citizenship of all young people”.
And recognised that young people from disadvantaged neighbourhoods are more vulnerable to all kinds of risks, including poor physical and mental health, substance abuse, self-harm, violence, discrimination and exclusion.
This became known as the Enter! Recommendation.
Five years on, the Joint Council on Youth has initiated a review of its impact.
And we are here this week to consider the progress that has been made, to identify the barriers that remain, and to share ideas about the right way forward, knowing that the ways in which young and disadvantaged people lose access to their rights have changed.
The rise of the part-time and insecure economy, the impact of discrimination generated by algorithms and artificial intelligence, and the particular circumstances of the many young migrants and refugees who have made it to Europe’s shores –
These are just some of the challenges that have emerged or grown in recent years, and hit our youngest people hardest.
Poverty, exclusion and inequality not only go hand in hand, they also shift in shape.
We need to recognise that fact and be dynamic in our approach to ensuring that social rights are applied to the circumstances in which all our young people live.
At the heart of that discussion will be the personal experience of people in this room.
The Enter! Recommendation was clear that many young people from disadvantaged neighbourhoods are motivated to contribute to the improvement of their own situations and those of their communities.
The three diverse testimonies that we have just heard – from Belgium, Romania, and the United Kingdom – are proof positive of that, and I have no doubt that over the course of the next few days you will hear more from one another – and discover others still when you visit projects around Strasbourg this Wednesday.
My thanks go to the city and to the Deputy Mayor, Nawel Rafik-Elmrini, in particular, for facilitating these visits –
To you, State Secretary, for the French Government’s commitment to social rights and for supporting this week’s activities as part of the French Presidency of the Committee of Ministers –
And finally my thanks go to each and every one of you for being here.
The strapline for this week is clear and simple: Our Lives, Our Rights.
But turning those words into the lived experience of disadvantaged young people is a real challenge for governments.
A challenge, but also an obligation.
Because every young person should be able to look to the future with confidence.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas and I wish you every success for this week, and beyond.