When talking about participation it becomes apparent fairly quickly that many people have different conceptions as to what participation actually means and entails. Youth participation of young people is a priority for AEGEE, and in our understanding, it covers several aspect, from participation in political processes, to involvement in the community, volunteering and awareness of ones’ environment.
Indeed, throughout our activities, we are trying to successfully involve and represent young people in the decision-making process, with a special focus on European level, due to our European identity. However, we are also aware that politics, both on national and European level, is suffering the lack of interest of young people, who have lost faith in their representatives. Additionally, young people consider that the decision-making is too centralised, and consequently they do not feel part of the decisions which are taken.
AEGEE-Europe believes that effective youth participation is about creating opportunities for young people to be involved in influencing, shaping, designing and contributing to policy and the development of services and programmes. If we consider the work of Arnstein, Sherry R, we can outline a typology of eight levels of participation, going from Manipulation and Therapy at the bottom (level of non-participation), to consulting (in the middle), to be fully reached at the “delegated power” state.
As youth organisation promoting democratic participation, AEGEE-Europe wants to open a debate on the importance of full participation of young people in the democratic life of the European Union.
Indeed, participation in democratic life is considered a fundamental right recognised in article 10.3 TEU of the Lisbon Treaty (2009) and an inherent part of the European citizenship provisions: ‘Every citizen shall have the right to participate in the democratic life of the Union.’ (Lisbon Treaty – emphasis added). Besides this, when focusing more specifically on young European citizens, Article 165 of the Lisbon Treaty states that one of the aims of EU action should be geared towards: ‘Encouraging the development of youth exchanges and of exchanges of socioeducational instructors, and encouraging the participation of young people in democratic life in Europe.’ (Lisbon Treaty, emphasis added).
Therefore, the Treaty of Lisbon also encourages participation of young people in democratic processes. In order to respond to today’s needs, AEGEE-Europe is launching a debate to propose the implementation of a co-management system for young people inside the European Institutions.
Co-management is a unique model where governments and youth representatives sit together to decide on the political and strategic priorities of the youth sector, to establish budget allocations in accordance with these priorities and to monitor the sector’s annual or pluri-annual programmes.
It means taking into account the contribution of youth in designing, implementing and evaluating national and European policies and plans affecting their concerns. It promotes partnership between non-governmental and governmental youth structures, and improvement of the processes for youth participation in the life of the community;
Finally, it proves that the decision-makers want to take full advantage of the valuable contribution which young people can make as active, responsible citizens, and think that this expertise is necessary to draft policies on youth.
The Co-management system has already been tested and implemented by the Council of Europe, which is one of the unique structure in the world, which has a well-functioning co-management structure for youth. This system involves representatives from youth non-governmental organisations (NGOs) sitting down in committees with government officials who together then work out the priorities for the youth sector and make recommendations for future budgets and programmes. These proposals are then adopted by the Committee of Ministers, the Council of Europe’s decision-making body.
Young people are represented through the Advisory Council on youth, which gathers 30 young people (organised and non organised youth). Together with national representatives, they work on the policies and are full part of the decision-making process.
Following the above presentation, AEGEE:
AEGEE-Europe believes it is necessary to have a co-decision system inside the relevant bodies dealing with youth in the European Commission (Youth Unit) as well as the possibility for the Youth Sector to send representatives to all the Council meetings dealing with topics related to youth.
The Youth Sector is now stronger than ever. We have developed deep expertise and needs-based analysis of what young people from Europe needs. We have the answers and the solutions on which decisions must be made on the EU level in order to reach and have the biggest impact possible.
This is why consulting is no longer enough. Especially today, when young people are the most affected sector by the social problems of society we need to be present on the table when the decisions are being made to ensure that the EU is taking the right path in including and empowering every young citizen in the Union.
Young people are no longer the future of Europe, we are the present and we are here to influence.
 , Sherry R. “A Ladder of Citizen Participation,” JAIP, Vol. 35, No. 4, July 1969, pp. 216-224