European Action in Youth Field

Written by Semra Tosuni

Reading time: 8 minutes

Historical context of European youth action

In 1988, the European Commission adoptde the first program aimed at young people to promote exchange and mobility of young people.

Subsequently, in 1996, the action in support of young people was extended through a European Voluntary Service (EVS) program. It allows young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to participate in social, environmental, or cultural activities.

In 2005, a “European Youth Pact” was proposed by the Commission and adopted by the European Council. It aims to improve the education, training, mobility, and social inclusion of young Europeans.

With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009, new European prerogatives have not been put in place. The only addition to Article 165 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) is a clarification: the Union aims “to encourage the participation of young people in the democratic life of Europe”.

Finally, on 28 November 2018, the Council adopted a resolution on the new EU Youth Strategy 2019-2027. Until 2018, there was a first European strategy for youth adopted by the Council on 27 November 2009.

Is the EU competent in the youth field?

The principle of conferral is a fundamental principle in European Union law. This means that the EU’s action is limited by the principle of specialty, and it only has the competences that are enshrined in the treaties.

The idea is that the European Union acts within the limits of the competences that the Member States have assigned to it in the treaties to achieve their objective.

To act in the field of youth, the action of the European Union must have a legal basis. Therefore, Article 165 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) is the legal basis of the EU action in the youth field. This article explains that EU contributes to the development of quality education by encouraging cooperation between Member States and if it is necessary, by supporting their actions. This is to justify the competence of the EU and to allow the Court of Justice of the European Union to control the action of the institutions.

On the other hand, Article 352 TFEU allows the international organization to act if it appears necessary to achieve one of the objectives of the treaties, even though there is no power to act in the treaties. In other words, there is no express competence in the Treaties.

On the other hand, the Court of Justice has clarified that Article 352 TFEU cannot be used as a basis for the adoption of provisions which would result in an amendment of the Treaty. Thus, in the youth field, under Article 6 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, the European Union’s action is complementary to that of the Member States.

European Youth Strategy

Based on the Council Resolution of 26 November 2018, the EU Youth Strategy is the framework for European Union youth policy cooperation for 2019-2027. The goals are to increase youth participation in democratic life, to support social and civic engagement and make sure that all young people have the necessary resources to take part in society.  

As in other policies, EU Youth Strategy can be summarized in three words: Engage, Connect and Empower. To identify cross-sectoral areas that affect young people’s lives and point out challenges, a dialogue process was held which involved young people from all over Europe. It was the 6th cycle of the EU Dialogue « Youth in Europe: What’s next? ».  

As a result, eleven European Youth Goals were discussed such as ‘Equality of all genders’, ‘Information & Constructive dialogue’, ‘Quality employment for all’.   

For the first time in June 2021, the European Commission has named a « European Union Youth Coordinator » who’s role is to strengthen cross-sectoral cooperation within the Commission.  

To contribute to the achievement of the objectives, the European Parliament, and the Council act with the ordinary legislative procedure. However, EU can’t coordinate Member State’s legislation about Youth. 

Erasmus +  

It is now the only EU program for education, training, youth, and sport since 2014. One of the aims of the new program for the period 2021-2027 is to develop a sense of belonging to the EU through an initiative called ‘Discover EU’, which offers you the opportunity to take part in a travel experience to discover and explore the diversity of Europe. 

European Solidarity Corps  

This initiative was launched in 2016 and aims to give young people aged 18 to 35 the opportunity to take part in solidarity activities in their country or abroad. The scheme could take place in the context of a voluntary action, an internship, or a work contract.  

Future European elections  

In 2024, European citizens will be called upon to vote for representatives in the European Parliament. Indeed, the European Parliament is the institution that directly represents the citizens who vote in European elections.  

The first time European citizens were called to vote for representatives in the European Parliament was in 1979, when it attracted 62% of registered voters. It is noticeable that the turnout is higher in Western European countries and lower in Eastern European countries.  

For the last elections in 2019, we have Belgium in the lead with a turnout of 88.47% of voters compared to less than 30% in Slovenia, Slovakia, or Croatia. Citizens are not particularly aware of the role and competences of the Parliament they are called to elect.  

In France in particular, in the 2019 elections, only 27% of 18–24-year-olds voted, compared to 67% of people over 65. This shows that the mobilization of young people is very important and can make a difference. Better information about the European institutions and European action could help change the way some young people view the EU.  


To overcome this tendency in some Member States, the European institutions are not hesitating to put in place, as we have seen, projects, programs, but also the idea of a more participatory democracy. Indeed, this idea will illustrate the greater idea of access to the European institutions, of a rapprochement with them.  

We must not forget that the European Union, which was first built for economic imperatives, is today attached to the democratic principle which includes a representative democracy but also a participatory democracy.  

Representative democracy is ensured by the European Parliament, which directly represents European citizens, the European Council through the ministers and heads of state, and the national parliaments, which take part in revising the treaties and represent their nationals.  

Participatory democracy is enshrined in Article 11 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) which proclaims a willingness to dialogue with European citizens and an openness to civil society.  

We also have the practice of lobbying, where NGOs participate in the reflections of the various European institutions and are consulted before decisions are taken.  These NGOs will bring their expertise to the European Commission, and this allows it to legitimise European action since it takes decisions following discussions with civil society.  

We also have the example of the European Citizens Initiative enshrined in Article 11 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), which provides that at least one million citizens from a quarter of the Member States (7 States) can invite the European Commission to submit a proposal on which European citizens consider that action by the Union is necessary. Some of the environmental issues have been responded to by the European Commission.  

To conclude, participatory democracy would be, in my opinion, the best way to integrate and make European citizens, especially young people, act at the European level and to better understand what the European Union is and what it brings us.