8th Council of Europe Conference of Ministers responsible for Youth “The future of the Council of Europe youth policy: AGENDA 2020”
(Kiev, 10-13 October 2008)

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Opening address by Maud de Boer-Buquicchio Deputy Secretary General

I am privileged to open the 8th Council of Europe Conference of Ministers responsible for youth. We are very grateful to the Government of Ukraine, and its Minister for Family, Youth and Sport, Mr Yuri Pavlenko, for hosting this event.

Our world changes fast — and for young people it changes even faster. This is why the Council of Europe must constantly adapt its policy and methods. This is what this 8th Conference of Ministers responsible for youth is aiming to do.

What are the main challenges?

The first one is related to the Council of Europe values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
These values are not only promoted through legal action and institution-building. It is at least as important that our political culture is inspired by these values; that we develop the knowledge and understanding of the other that are necessary for a genuine commitment to human rights, democracy and the rule of law in everyday life; and that we strengthen individual skills required for a meaningful participation in a democratic society.

In this respect, youth policy has a crucial role to play. Not only do we need to ensure that all young people fully enjoy their human rights. We must also develop their capacity to actively commit themselves to the protection of human rights and human dignity, starting with their peers in their daily living environment.

This is in fact reflected in the preparation of this Conference in which youth organisations have been actively involved.

With regard to democracy, youth policy cannot limit itself to promoting the idea of democracy as an abstract concept. We must provide young people with real possibilities to participate in the life of the society, in decision-making and in change processes. For more than 35 years, the Council of Europe has successfully implemented this approach through the educational activities of the European Youth Centres and the European Youth Foundation, as well as through the practice of co-management between governments and youth organisations.

Europe is facing many challenges to democracy and human rights. I am convinced that in view of these pressures both the Council of Europe and the member states are called upon to intensify their action with young people, particularly in the field of human rights, and to continue developing innovative approaches in non-formal education and training. Young people are our big potential for promoting the core values that inspire Europe.

The second challenge is related to cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue.

A few months ago, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe approved the “White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue”.

One of the key messages is that intercultural dialogue should extend to all aspects of life – be it in the neighbourhood in which we live, the workplace, the education system, the media, the political arena, civil society and particularly the youth sector.

In fact, as regards learning intercultural skills, non-formal learning — particularly through youth work and voluntary and civic services — is as important as formal education in schools and universities. And the teaching and learning of intercultural skills is one of the key dimensions of our overall policy for the promotion of intercultural dialogue.

The Council of Europe has carried out two major European youth campaigns under the slogan “All different - all equal”, in 1995 and in 2006-2008. The objective was to promote the idea of living together as equals — without racism and intolerance, without antisemitism and Islamophobia, and an ever stronger capacity to enjoy our cultural diversity and to draw strength from it.

It is crucially important that these successful activities are followed up at the level of the Council of Europe and in our member states. The youth sector of the Council of Europe must fully integrate intercultural dialogue into its policy and programme and continue to encourage and support youth organisations, youth service providers and administrations at all levels.

The third big theme is that of social cohesion and the social inclusion of young people.

The background document provided for this Conference by the Secretariat describes how millions of young Europeans today are confronted with an increasing risk of financial and social precarity. For many young people — including many living in economically more prosperous countries — the transition from school to the labour market is very difficult. Moreover, having a job does no longer guarantee decent living conditions. For many young people, access to affordable housing is simply out of reach.

Our social systems, our political and economic priorities, our lack of awareness for intergenerational fairness often reinforce the difficulties of the young generation to become economically independent and create a family. In most European countries, the gap between young people with greater opportunities and those with fewer opportunities is dramatically increasing.

Here again, the long experience of the Council of Europe youth sector in the field of non-formal education is very valuable. One approach is to improve the skills of young people through training, and thereby increase their employability by providing them with skills which they often do not acquire in school or university. Social competence, conflict resolution skills, citizenship and participation skills, leadership competence, project management, team-building, entrepreneurial skills — these are just some of the competences that young people can learn in youth work in all its forms, often better and more easily than in the formal education sector.

Both in their advocacy role, and in their role as innovators and transmitters of skills, youth organisations are essential partners for our policy in the area of social cohesion.

This ministerial conference is invited to debate the future of the Council of Europe youth policy in the next decade.

Youth policy cannot and should not be developed in isolation. They must be a part and parcel of education, social affairs, health, and other policies.

As you know, we launched in 2006 a Programme “Building a Europe for and with children”. Less than a month ago in Stockholm we defined our Strategy for the next three years, and participation is indeed going to be a central issue.

The Council of Europe has been building Europe for and with young people for decades, and the results are overwhelmingly positive. I believe therefore that we should reinforce co-operation between the children’s rights programme and the youth sector, that the participative structures of the youth sector should serve as an inspiration and that we should make use, whenever possible, of the platform offered by the European Youth Forum.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The message I would like to leave with you is mainstreaming.

The idea of mainstreaming is not only to keep the interest of the young people in mind when designing, adopting and implementing policies in all other areas. It also means benefiting from the energy, the ideas and the creativity of young people in every aspect of our work.

Again, the Council of Europe and the All Different All Equal campaign is a good argument to support this claim. When the two year Youth Campaign formally ended in 2007, the accumulated energy and ambition to continue, spilled over into a number of follow-up projects, both at the national level, but also at the Council of Europe, which is launching a campaign “Speak out against Discrimination” which builds on the youth campaign and takes it to a broader audience, under the same slogan of All Different All Equal.

So, take my word for it. When it comes to youth policies, mainstreaming not only makes sense. It rejuvenates and revitalises the work and policies beyond the narrowly defined field of youth – not as a facelift – but as a genuine energy boost.

I am confident that this conference will provide a very strong dose of vitamin to this effect.