Empowering Europe’s youth to thrive in a post-pandemic world

The coronavirus pandemic has upended the lives of people around the world, with our youth among the hardest hit as their education, work opportunities and social lives are put on hold.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, young Europeans were increasingly mobile, moving around the EU for education, and work, while major strides were being made to resolve inequalities in education and socioeconomic conditions.

According to EU data, of the 86 million young people living in the EU-28 in 2019 (identified as between 15 and 29 years-old, or one out of every six citizens), a third said they had stayed abroad for at least two weeks for studies, training, work, exchanges, or volunteering (aside from tourism or staying with family members).

But, as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pointed out in her State of the Union address in September 2021: “the pandemic has robbed young people of many opportunities to meet and make new friends, to experience and explore new cultures.”

“While we cannot give them that time back,” lamented von der Leyen “the EU is designating 2022 the European Year of Youth (EYY),” and she pledged to listen to the concerns of young Europeans regarding their future.

Celebrating Youth 

The EYY 2022 does not come straight out of the blue, as it builds on the achievements of past programme to involve young people as decision-makers. They include the EU Youth Dialogue, a mixture of young people – particularly the disadvantaged – along with youth organisations, plus policymakers, and other experts to create the 11 youth goals  that form the EU Youth Strategy under the slogan ‘Engage, Connect, Empower.’

Featuring conferences, events, and promotional campaigns around Europe, the EYY will focus on green, digital, social inclusion, support for good mental health, and other issues close to the hearts of Europe’s younger generation.

Besides budgets of €1 billion for Erasmus+ and the European Solidarity Corps, Europe’s parliamentarians also provided an extra €8 million top-up for the two programmes to support EYY 2022 activities, with the proviso that young people must be involved in deciding how the money should be spent.

Even before Covid-19, youth across Europe enjoyed the benefits of numerous other EU programmes geared to helping them find work, educational opportunities or traineeships, like the EU’s Youth Guarantee, and the Youth Employment Initiative. Others include the EURES targeted mobility programme, while a new initiative called ALMA will be launched in 2022 to support cross-border professional mobility for disadvantaged youth.

Among the multiple offerings focused on youth are several rural development programmes for young farmers, plus research and innovation programmes, and actions on climate change – including EU programmes with international outreach or of a cross-national nature.

Boosting opportunities for Europe’s youngsters also includes exciting initiatives such as the European Education Area, the updated European Digital Action Plan, the European Skills Agenda, and the Youth Employment Support.

The EYY also goes hand in hand with the successful implementation of NextGenerationEU – the whopping €800 billion investment programme for the whole of the EU’s post-pandemic recovery, which provides funds, loans and grants across a wide swathe of sectors.

What does the European Year of Youth mean to young people?

That’s what the EU’s Youth Portal asked youngsters in a poll, whose results were published in December 2021. Most said they would like to actively contribute to the EYY 2022, and interact with young people from other European countries, while they are primarily interested in the topics of education and training, climate, health and mental wellbeing, as well as in matters of inclusion.

They see the year as an opportunity for more interactions with youth across Europe, a chance for young people to take part in the decision-making process and to make their voices heard at European level.

Most of those surveyed expect to be given more opportunities to interact with others through cross-border activities, trainings, cultural exchanges, Pan-European festivals, and other large events.

Some stressed the need for recovery programmes after the negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on their daily lives.

The EYY is also a chance “to put aside our differences and to build a shared Europe that goes beyond our national identities,” according to one interviewee. Meanwhile, others view it as an opportunity to bridge the generation gap.

Last but not least, the 2022 Conference on the Future of Europe will highlight the EU’s commitment to encouraging its youth to participate in setting the agenda, by presenting the views and opinions of young people on the future of the EU. What’s more one-third of participants in the European Citizens’ Panels and of Panel representatives to the Conference Plenaries are also young people, while the President of the European Youth Forum also takes part as champion for the young.

With this in mind, we look forward to seeing Europe’s younger citizens at one of the many activities organised by EU institutions, Member States, and civil society organisations to celebrate the wonderful Year of Youth and our young people.

The research in this article was funded by the EU. If you liked this article, please consider sharing it on social media.

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