Strasbourg, 20-22 October 2015
19 October 2015
Bringing down barriers to youth participation: adopting a lingua franca for local and regional authorities and young people
Current Affairs Committee
Rapporteur: Malcolm BYRNE, Ireland (R, ILDG)
Why are young people not seizing the opportunities proposed by political institutions, including local and regional authorities, to have their voices heard? There is an apparent paradox of youth participation: while political institutions place greater emphasis on its promotion, young people seem to reject the opportunities on offer, as the decline in their election turnout and recent protest movements suggest.
This report, which summarises the findings of recent youth research, illustrates that political institutions and young people are just not talking the same language: young people have created a new “vocabulary of citizenship”, they are mobilised by specific issues linked to their concerns and interests which, in their eyes, are not dealt with by the policies being adopted by democratically elected representatives. Political institutions, on the other hand, seem still to consider voting as the only relevant instrument of participation, political activity and consultation. Real citizen participation is only achieved, however, if citizens are able to influence decision and policy making.
The draft resolution proposes measures that will ensure that young citizens and elected representatives have opportunities to enter into dialogue in order to strengthen the links between them. These exchanges will also help to dispel any misunderstandings about each party’s motivations and needs. It also proposes that local and regional authorities adopt the new culture of communication being widely used by young people, thus enabling this group to participate effectively in policy and decision-making procedures, to bring their concerns and needs to the table, while using the tools which they favour. It is in this way that the barriers to meaningful youth participation will be brought down.
1. There is an apparent paradox of youth participation in contemporary society: political institutions are placing greater emphasis on its promotion while young people seem to reject the opportunities on offer, as the decline in their election turnout and recent protest movements would suggest.
2. Young people’s distrust of politics could threaten European democracy which, to a certain extent, is being undermined by a weakening of its institutions’ and policies’ legitimacy among young citizens. For them, this legitimacy can only be recovered when their voices are heard and their participation in decision-making processes is ensured.
3. Young people’s rejection of politics can be seen as a symbol of the society which they feel has betrayed and alienated them – they have been hardest hit by the crisis, facing high unemployment and difficult transitions to adulthood. Participation is crucial to the development of young people’s sense of responsibility for community life, helping them to acquire democratic citizenship skills, and more importantly empowering them to take active charge of their lives and communities. Hence, they are motivated to express their needs through new practices of civic involvement although these are sometimes perceived as anti-political or a-political.
4. Unfortunately, when it comes to (re)-establishing dialogue between young people and political institutions, misunderstandings and difficulties in communication abound. The two sides speak different languages: young people have created a new “vocabulary of citizenship”, whereas the authorities still seem to consider voting as the only relevant instrument of political activity and consultation. What’s more, authorities tend to see “youth” as a transition to control and manage, policies being aimed at guiding young people through their transition to adulthood, placing them in a subordinate position and perceiving them as something “in the making” rather than full citizens.
5. Young people are increasingly mobilised by specific issues, more closely linked to their (personal) interest in a given issue than to a general interest in politics and daily experiences. They choose to be involved in collective forms of civic and political action characterised by lower levels of formality and perceived as less binding and “labelling” than parties, preferring to effect small, profound changes through their daily interactions. Young people are increasingly active in civic associations, charities, NGOs and voluntary activities. In addition, Internet and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have drastically changed youth participatory behaviour and political action, updating traditional actions, like sending e-mails to politicians, or offering new ones, like protesting through mail bombing. Local and regional authorities should promote strategies that help to tie these new acts of participation to the conventional participatory paths.
6. However, due to their scale of action and the tools used, many practices are scarcely visible or are classed as incivility with the result that young people are not only failing to make their voices heard but also are being misjudged. In addition, youth abstention from the institutional places of politics feeds a vicious circle of self-marginalisation: if young people do not vote, subscribe to political parties or trade unions, or do not stand in elections, their position will be considered as less politically relevant by politics and politicians.
7. Local and regional authorities’ vocabulary of youth participation can be described as too narrow. Authorities tend to see young people as a homogenous group, placing teenagers and thirty year olds on the same level. They do not take properly into account differences in socio-economic backgrounds and other forms of social disadvantage. In addition, the tools of participation they propose is limited mainly to voting, standing for election or public consultation.
8. Municipal and regional youth councils are valuable instruments of youth consultation however some do not offer young people the opportunity to participate meaningfully in decision and policy-making procedures. It would be useful to analyse municipal and regional youth councils’ characteristics, powers and activities to see how these can be fully utilised to promote real youth participation in decision and policy-making.
9. Finally, local and regional authorities tend to limit youth participation to issues that “concern young people directly”, keeping the “big issues” to the “grown-ups”, presupposing that young people are not interested in the economy, environmental issues, health and educational policies, etc.
10. The Congress welcomes the setting up of its ad hoc group on the participation of young people and awaits its conclusions on how the Congress can promote a structured dialogue with young people from across Europe and their participation in its work.
11. The Congress reaffirms its intention to pursue the fruitful co-operation its Secretariat has established with the Council of Europe’s Directorate General of Democracy, in particular the Youth Department, on promoting youth participation and suggests the organisation of a joint conference on youth participation so as to promote dialogue between its members and young people.
12. In view of the above, and in order to create optimal conditions for achieving the meaningful participation of young people, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe urges local and regional authorities to implement its recommendations contained in Resolution 346(2012), Resolution 319(2010) and Resolution 259(2008), and in particular to:
a. mainstream the Revised European Charter on the Participation of Young People in Local and Regional Life in all aspects of their youth policy making;
b. offer opportunities for young people to enter into a structured dialogue, for example by setting up joint decision and policy-making bodies;
c. encourage wider knowledge among young people of democratic practices;
d. organise joint training activities for elected representatives, local/regional government staff and young people to break down misunderstandings and to promote a participation-friendly community culture;
e. engage in dialogue and consultation of young people from disadvantaged areas;
13. The Congress reiterates its invitation in Res 346(2012) that the national delegations include some young elected representatives as both full and substitute members.
14. The Congress also draws attention to its Resolution 207(2006) on young people and new information and communication technologies: a new opportunity for local democracy whose provisions it encourages both local and regional authorities to implement. In addition, in view of the limited participation tools offered by local and regional authorities, the Congress invites the latter to provide training in ICTs for their elected representatives and staff to increase the use of those tools favoured by young people.
15. Furthermore, the Congress invites local and/or regional authorities to:
a. introduce citizenship, human rights and democracy education, including on how political systems work, in schools within their competence;
b. give school pupils the opportunity to practice democracy by setting up joint school councils, consulting them on the running of the school;
c. hold debates between local and regional elected representatives and children and young people in order to strengthen links between them and dispel misunderstandings;
d. organise consultations with young citizens to ensure the voices of those who are not eligible to vote are heard;
e. set up child and youth-friendly information sharing and feedback mechanisms in order that young people know when and how their views have been taken into account;
f. promote a new culture of communication through the use of the Internet, for example online platforms, and social media to be used for public consultation through referendums, participatory budgeting, joint design of services and urban planning, etc;
g. investigate, in the case of regions with legislative powers, the possibility of lowering the voting age to 16 in regional elections.
1. If citizenship is the result of both participation and inclusion in a certain societal system, it can be said that the crisis and the connected risk of personal immobility and social invisibility are eroding young people’s citizenship that is their possibility to understand themselves, to act and to be recognised as full members of society. Young people’s rejection of politics can be seen as a symbol of the society which they feel has betrayed and alienated them, while the new practices of civic involvement they use for expressing their needs are sometimes perceived as anti-political or a-political.
2. Young people give shape to their personal idea of citizenship and on how to engage in society on their own from their experiences in the home, friendship groups, school and neighbourhood. Schools are a place where everyday citizenship issues should be addressed and where political systems and participation can be learnt. In addition, they represent a space where it is easier to reach the more marginalised groups of the youth population.
3. Young people have been hardest hit by the effects of the economic and financial crisis. Negative trends in the labour market, increased competition for jobs, increasingly insecure work contracts, protracted and complicated life trajectories, as well as inadequate social protection hinder youth transitions to adulthood. Civic and political engagement, as well as socio-economic inclusion are elements of citizenship that cannot be separated.
4. Young people are increasingly making use of Internet and Communication Technologies (ICTs) as instruments for participation however access to computers and to the Internet is still defined by income or education, but also by the geographical area of residence, eg urban versus rural areas. In order to promote a culture of communication based on the use of ICTs, equal access to the Internet is necessary.
5. Finally, in order to understand the meaning of the new forms of expression of youth involvement, it is of paramount importance to explore the crisis of the more conventional forms of involvement.
6. The Congress refers to its recommendation to the Committee of Ministers to invite member States to strengthen the political influence and participation of young people through the offer of more citizenship rights, for example by investigating the possibility of lowering the voting age to 16 as proposed in Resolution 1826 (2011) of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
7. In light of the above, the Congress recommends that the Committee of Ministers invite member States to:
a. introduce, in schools within their competence, citizenship, human rights and democracy education, including on how political systems work;
b. introduce school students to the responsibilities and opportunities of participation at an early stage of their lives by implementing a system of school joint management boards, which would constitute spaces for dialogue and consultation;
c. ensure policies are adopted which give young people access to their social rights, such as employment, housing and social protection by making more resources available to those institutions working on youth-related issues at various governmental levels, for example youth ministries;
d. reduce the digital divide by ensuring equal access to the Internet in all areas, both urban and rural;
8. The Committee of Ministers may wish to invite the Joint Council on Youth (CMJ) to consider:
a. undertaking a mapping exercise of existing legal frameworks, structures and practices of participation of young people in decision-making processes at local and regional levels;
b. organising jointly with the Congress a conference on youth participation so as to promote dialogue between Congress members and young people;
c. exploring the current offers of youth participation in political parties and trade unions at local, regional, national and European levels in order to define the state of youth political participation in Europe.
9. Finally, the Congress requests that the Committee of Ministers invite member States to consider making voluntary contributions to help finance its efforts to promote the participation of young Europeans in its work through a new mechanism for structured dialogue and their continued active participation in the sessions.
 L: Chamber of Local Authorities / R: Chamber of Regions
EPP/CCE: European People’s Party Group in the Congress
SOC: Socialist Group
ILDG: Independent and Liberal Democrat Group
ECR: European Conservatives and Reformists Group
NR: Members not belonging to a political group of the Congress
 Preliminary draft resolution and preliminary draft recommendation approved by the Current Affairs Committee on 1 July 2015.
Members of the Committee:
F. Mukhametshin (Chair), M. Byrne (1st Vice-Chair), J. Neumann, (2nd Vice-Chair), V. Udovychenko, (3rd Vice-Chair), M. S. Luca (4th Vice-Chair), E. Yeritsyan (5th Vice-Chair), L. Aadel, S. Aliyeva, A. Ambros, A. Antosova, C. Avanzo, G.A. Axelsson, S. Barnes, A. Benli, G. Bende, L. Blaskovicova, S. Bohatyrchuk-Kryvko, A. Boff, G. Boschini A. Bidav, A. Brand, E. Campbell-Clark, Y. Celik (alternate: M. Aydin), L. Cederskjold, P. Chesneau, A. Cook, D. Davidovic, Z. Damjanovski, C. Dejonghe, Z. Dragunkina, N. Dirginciene, S. Gallo, F. Gamerdinger, J. v.den Hout, G. Ioakeimidis, S. V. Dooren, I. Emic, E. Flyvholm, J-L. Gaultier, F. Gezmis, D. Ghisletta, K. Gloanec-Maurin, G. Grzelak, M. Kardinar, M. Kazandzhiev, A. Kordfelder, A. Koopmanschap, H. Kuhn-Theis, I. Linge, A. Magyar, M. Mahnke, G.M. Mallia, H. Marva, M. Medaric, Y. Mishcheryakov (alternate: V. Novikov), C. Naudi Baixench, S. Orlova, N. Palova, C. Popa, L. Perikli, O. Pesic (alternate: S. Lekic), N. Rafik-Elmrini, A. Ravins, F. Ramos, M. Reyes Lopez, Y. Renström, N. Rosu, N. Rybak, M. Ryo, Y. Rzayeva, A. Sokolov, H. Sonderegger, M. Subasioglu, J.-L. Testud, G. Tkemaladze, R. Toccaceli, A. Tragaioli, B. Toce, M. Toscani, L. S. Vennesland, C. Vesovic (alternate: Z. Ljikovic), J. Warmisham, J. Watson, P. Weidig, U. Wüthrich-Pelloli.
N.B.: The names of members who took part in the vote are in italics.
Secretariat of the Committee: S. Cankoçak.
Project Manager on Youth Issues: J. Hunting.
 Resolution 346 (2012) on Youth and democracy: the changing face of youth political engagement; Resolution 319 (2010) on Integration of young people from disadvantaged neighbourhoods, Resolution 259 (2008) on Integration and participation of young people at local and regional level.
 See footnote 2.