Inclusion not alienation: respecting rights and providing opportunities are key to integrating youth

Young people are key drivers of social change. They will help to change our world and to create more tolerant, socially-minded and equitable societies. However, they still encounter substantial economic, social, and political barriers to participation and inclusion.

Today, on International Youth Day, we emphasise the importance of helping youth thrive. They are not only the leaders of the future, but leaders for today.

“By closing the door to young people, we are closing a door to ourselves. Europe has to take its commitments to economic and social rights seriously in order for our societies to flourish,” said FRA Director Michael O’Flaherty. “Without a prospect of gainful employment and financial stability, we are paving the way to disillusion and disengagement, which is not only unfortunate for the young people concerned but in the longer term could present an acute danger to social cohesion.”

Young people are creative, open to change, energetic and resourceful. Yet without full access to employment and education, their potential remains untapped. The number of youth classified as being Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) is a key indicator of this. As noted in FRA’s Fundamental Rights Report 2016, the number of NEETs remains high, making young people vulnerable to poverty and social exclusion. Those with disabilities or a migrant background are particularly affected.

Opportunities in the labour market and education are therefore vital to their prospects, as well as to the creation of a skilled workforce. Indeed, as EU populations age, the role of young people as future tax payers grows in importance. Programmes such as the European Commission’s Youth Employment Initiative and Youth Guarantee contribute to tackling youth unemployment and helping young people achieve their potential.   

Being able to participate fully in society helps young people realise their social, economic and political rights and potential. If this does not happen, they can become excluded from social and civic life, which can lead to marginalisation, and even violent radicalisation.

Education plays a vital role in cultivating a sense of citizenship and respect for the core EU values of freedom, tolerance, and non-discrimination. Critical thinking, as well as acknowledgement and respect for differing ideas and opinions, can be fostered through such measures as including human rights and rights awareness into school curricula. Programmes such as Erasmus+ help to further integration and intercultural dialogue. 

Political and civic participation are also paramount for inclusive societies. However, the influence of young people on decision making processes is often very limited. Platforms that empower young people to actively participate are therefore indispensable. Youth councils can be excellent platforms to enable participation both at the local and national level. 

In harnessing the potential of Europe’s young people, we respect their basic fundamental rights and lay the foundations for a more inclusive and equitable future.