Kristóf Papp discusses the importance of meaningfully engaging young people and proposes the implementation of a Youth Test to improve participation in policy making.
Our societies are facing a growing gap between a young and engaged population, and an older generation of decision-makers. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), the average age of MPs in Europe is 50, with only 5% aged under 30. This raises questions regarding Parliaments’ ability to effectively engage in a broader range of issues, beyond traditional youth policies: Can our democracies be equipped to address the impact of debt and fiscal policy on young people, if most parliamentarians made their savings before the 2008 financial crisis? How do lawmakers relate to Generation Z’s expectations for penalising sexual harassment? Do they share young peoples’ views on the urgency of the climate crisis?
Young people make up 25% of the EU population. They have been at the forefront of some of the defining movements of recent years, such as the fight against the climate crisis and the ‘me too’ revolution. Their meaningful engagement is the cornerstone of democratic policy making. Without participatory mechanisms, we risk young people feeling left out or ignored by their representatives.
This is why the European Youth Forum is calling for an EU Youth Test: an assessment of the impact that each new piece of legislation would have on young people, and of the measures that could mitigate any potential negative effect. This proposal came out of consultation with youth-led organisations from across the continent and aligns with the EU Youth Strategy for 2019-2027, which includes youth mainstreaming as one of its main pillars.
A Youth Test should be based on three pillars:
- Meaningful engagement and consultation with relevant youth stakeholders;
- Impact assessment of the draft proposals;
- Identifying mitigation measures to address negative consequences of the proposal for young people, with a special focus on vulnerable groups.
The importance of an EU Youth Test cannot be underestimated. Governments’ responses to the financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, have had a long-lasting impact on young people. Yet youngsters’ perspectives were excluded from the decision-making processes, and their needs were not specifically considered during the design of the EU’s recovery plans. Young people could have also contributed to the discussion on the Digital Services Act, which aims to regulate social networks, or the taxonomy package, which classifies sustainable activities. As the first-ever generation that grew up with digital means, and as the generation that will suffer the most from green inaction, young people today should have had dedicated room to provide their input.
There are several examples of successful implementation of Youth Tests in several EU member states, including in France, Germany, Austria, and the region of Flanders in Belgium. While each country’s test employs different approaches and provides different perspectives, they have all generated useful insights on the impact that legislation can have on young people. In Germany, for example, the Youth Test examines potential impacts that laws could have on young people’s finances and health, and assesses whether they impact individual rights or increase discrimination. In Italy, an expert body evaluates the allocation of Covid Recovery Funds and the execution of the NextGenerationEU, in order to ensure that the impact on youth is considered. Other youth and child impact assessments exist outside Europe, including in New Zealand or Canada.
The European Union has implemented several consultation processes that include all citizens, but these processes rarely result in an in-depth analysis. Further, there is also no mechanism to monitor how the outcomes of consultations are taken into account or integrated into the process. A Youth Test will address these concerns by allowing for meaningful direct engagement with young people and their representatives, so that they can provide qualitative input. This way, lawmakers can ensure that they have thorough impact analysis, which includes input from vulnerable youth. Further, by publishing the outcomes of the Youth Test, the EU will be able to show young people that their input matters, and boost their involvement in civic affairs.
This year – the European Year of Youth – carries a promise to support the young people who have been hit hard by the pandemic. There is no better time to establish an EU Youth Test to show that the EU makes good on its promises.
Read more about the EU Youth Strategy: https://www.youthforum.org/news/new-eu-youth-strategy-a-potential-game-changer-for-young-people
Kristóf Papp is the Youth Participation Policy Officer for the European Youth Forum.
The European Youth Forum were involved in our recent debate on Covid-19 and Intergenerational Equity.
The views expressed in this post are those of the author, and not of the UCL European Institute, nor of UCL.