Youth Participation and civic action – Reflections of a youth worker

by Amerissa Giannouli

Every now and then, I organise an activity with young people that involves a set of methods and tools to help them discover themselves, build their competencies and use these to achieve a change in the community by involving the community. It is always refreshing to listen to new ideas, new perceptions, trying to understand better what these people care about and how they could work towards this direction in their everyday lives, and, of course, what do I learn from them. 

Over the 5 years of working professionally with young people and on youth policies, I have identified three issues that come up in the discussions with young people I have worked with. These issues, based on the country and local context, may affect youth participation and civic action differently on local, national and European levels.  

The first one is connected to the amount of information with regards to youth opportunities and decision making. It is very common to meet young people that, although the information is out there, they still have no idea about education and training opportunities beyond the formal educational system, the existence of youth organisations or the tools they could use to have a say in decision making processes either at the local, national or European level. I was one of them and it took me quite a long time to clear a few things out. I still have questions but this is expected since the processes in the field of youth are very diverse and dynamic and change over time. Such information could be better organised and provided in a more constructive manner since there are many different providers and many online platforms that make this information look fragmented and too much to handle. On the EU level, the Eurodesk network is doing a lot of work to support raising awareness on educational and training opportunities for young people. Regarding decision making, more efforts are needed that probably involve other actors apart from the EU institutions and their representatives.

A few things we should consider is that for some young people, during periods of life that you want to focus on other things, build your CV with job-related skills and, simply, have other priorities, allocating time on searching for this may look like the hardest thing in the world. There are young people – who are usually neglected – that face everyday life struggles, such as mental health issues, domestic violence and other serious criminal cases. There are young people not interested in participating in such things and it is perfectly ok. There are young people that do not feel related and connected to what is already out there. And the list can go on since we cannot really put labels on the reasons why young people are not engaged in democratic participatory activities and social participation, at least in those “we” see as such. Plus, this is not the scope of this article. 

Another important issue that comes into the discussions is the role of the educational system in all these. I have met young people really interested to talk about political issues, doing something about it and seeing change happen. However, after spending time on drafting ideas and proposals, they do not know where these ideas and proposals should be addressed and how. They might know about how their political system of their country or the EU works but, in practice, they cannot figure out their contributions to them. This may lead to frustration, disappointment and inevitably, indifference. It is not a secret that in most cases the formal school environment and the related youth structures do not offer space to practice and experience civic action. Instead, young people learn about democracy by reading books and taking tests on materials that may say nothing about them and their lives as citizens. There might be educational opportunities and initiatives from teachers, organisations and institutions but they are usually short term and limited to the most privileged young people. The formal education systems should provide space to practice and experience democracy and civic action on a regular basis.  

The third issue is connected to the work of the (youth) organisations and the relevant institutions. For many reasons, it is difficult to be in touch, inform and include young people that have been marginalised by the system and society. Although schools might be the easier channels to connect and offer possibilities for social action, the civil society, youth organisations, youth clubs and youth centres can also offer opportunities for dialogue by the implementation of activities for and with less privileged young people. This requires more effort, time and other resources on behalf of the civil society to undertake long term actions and programmes (you could read more about our positions towards the need to increase operating funding to youth organisations here). This, of course, suggests a more organized civil society that has the power to advocate and ask for policy changes. In line with this, organized young people in groups and teams have more power to advocate for youth rights and ask for policy changes on issues that matter to them. 

It is not going to be easy and there will be moments of frustration and disappointment, blaming the system and the existence of conspiracies. However, we should not forget that, as long as we are dealing with social constructions, we can ask for and gather support from members of society to achieve a goal and a change. And, as one youth rights advocator told me once, “sometimes young people need to read a report or two, even if this is the most boring thing to do in the world”. 

Such observations do not ignore the need for the state to provide essential social services to young people, especially to those facing structural socio-economic, among other things, barriers. Even better, the state could work towards eliminating these barriers. Only when sufficient care systems are built for all the members of the society, we could be able to talk about trust in the political system, from local to national and EU level. 


Regarding the European Union, as our role is a Eurodesk multiplier, below you may find a collection of important links in an effort to assist young people interested in taking part in activities offered by the EU institutions. Some relevant national channels are also mentioned. However, local and national means for youth participation require further specialized research and exploration.

Important disclaimer

It should be noted that providing this table of information only scratches the surface on how to support young people in their personal, social and political development and it is referred to particular geographical and socio-economic context (Western-European, mainly). There is a whole “iceberg” beneath this surface that involves disappointment, physical and mental issues, different types of oppression and injustices that need to be addressed before we even start talking about information gaps. Hence, this table is mostly referred to people and practitioners that have already managed to be in a privileged position to look for ways to participate and advocate for change. 

Strategies and policies 
EU Youth Strategy – The framework for EU Youth Policy cooperation for 2019-2027.
-European Youth Goals – 11 Goals that reflect the views of European youth and represent the vision of those active in the EU Youth Dialogue
– Council of Europe – Youth sector strategy 2030Provides policy guidance and a broad political roadmap, or mission statement, for the period 2020-30.
YouthWiki – An online platform presenting information on European countries’ youth policies.
Country information about youth policies and youth work by the Council of Europe
Youth Rights / Advocacy 
Section at the European Youth Portal on Your rights and inclusion – It offers information in the form of articles on youth rights and on the fight for inclusion in Europe.
Council of Europe – Youth Department – The Youth Department is part of the Directorate of Democratic Participation within the Directorate General of Democracy (“DGII”) of the Council of Europe.
EU-Council of Europe youth partnership – It is the partnership between the European Union and the Council of Europe in the field of youth.
European Youth Forum – It is the platform of youth organisations in Europe representing over 100 youth organisations, which bring together tens of millions of young people from all over Europe.
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989)UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)
EU Youth Information Opportunities for funding, volunteerism, education and training
European Youth Portal – It offers European and country level information about opportunities and initiatives that are of interest to young people who are living, learning and working in Europe.
Eurodesk – Eurodesk is a European youth information network and a support organisation to Erasmus+ Youth programme. Eurodesk makes information on learning mobility comprehensive and accessible to young people and those who work with them. Eurodesk opportunity finder is a well structured platform on different opportunities in the EU. The Time to move campaign includes a collection of online and physical events all over Europe that happen during October of every year. Both platforms can introduce young people to the available opportunities in the EU.
European Youth Information and Counselling Agency (ERYICA) – It is an independent European organisation, composed of national and regional youth information co-ordination bodies and networks trying to make sure that young people have access to youth-friendly, reliable and comprehensive information.
SALTO – YOUTH – It is a network of seven Resource Centres working on European priority areas within the youth field that provides non-formal learning resources for youth workers and youth leaders and organises training and contact-making activities to support organisations and National Agencies (NAs) within the frame of the European Commission’s Erasmus+ Youth programme, the European Solidarity Corps, and beyond.
European Youth Foundation – It is a fund established by the Council of Europe to provide financial and educational support for European youth activities.
(Youth) decision making structures
EU Youth DIalogue – The EU Youth Dialogue is a dialogue mechanism between young people and decision makers taking place in the framework of the EU Youth Strategy. For more information, you can reach out to the National contact points.
Youth Ideas initiative by the Youth Outreach Unit of the European Parliament aiming to make it easier for young people to participate actively in European democratic life.
Conference on the Future of Europe is a citizen-led series of debates and discussions that will enable people from across Europe to share their ideas. It is a major pan-European democratic exercise, with citizen-led debates enabling people from across Europe to share their ideas and help shape our common future. This is done via an innovative Multilingual Digital Platform where any European can share ideas, and both national and European Citizens’ Panels.
European Youth Event, organized by the Youth Outreach Unit of the European Parliament, is the European Parliament’s flagship event for youth, undertaken with several partners and thousands of participants in Strasbourg every year.
Have your say is a platform where citizens and businesses can share their views on new EU policies and existing laws.
Debating Europe is a platform where anyone can debate the issues they care about with European politicians and experts.
European Citizens Initiative is a unique way for you to help shape the EU by calling on the European Commission to propose new laws. Once an initiative has reached 1 million signatures, the Commission will decide on what action to take.
National level – youth parliament, youth council at national level
Local level – youth council at municipal level
(Youth) reports and outcomes of previous actions
Conference Plenary results of the Conference on the Future of Europe
Youth Ideas report
Manifesto for Young People by Young People to Shape the European Cooperation Policy (30 years Interreg) – Young Europeans’ involvement in the future of European Territorial Cooperation
New Narrative for Europe results – The New Narratives for Europe ran for five years (2013-2017), having begun as a Pilot Project and continued as a Preparatory Action, both supported by the European Parliament.
Eurobarometer  – It is the polling instrument used by the European Commission, the European Parliament and other EU institutions and agencies to regularly monitor the state of public opinion in Europe on issues related to the European Union as well as attitudes on subjects of political or social nature.
Independent youth opportunities
Euroscola – The European Parliament’s programme allows hundreds of thousands of high-school students to participate in a simulation exercise of the work of MEPs.
European Charlemagne Youth Prize is awarded to youth-run projects that promote European and international understanding. The award highlights the daily work by young people across Europe to strengthen European democracy and supports their active participation in writing about the future of Europe. It is run jointly by the European Parliament and the Foundation of the International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen
European Youth Parliament is a peer-to-peer educational programme that brings together young people from across Europe to debate the pressing issues of our time organised by the Schwarzkopf Foundation Young Europe. Get in contact with the EYP National Committee in your country for more information. 
Tools for action
Youth Participation Toolkit by SALTO
A guide to change by The 25 percent
Fridays for advocacy video series by Inter Alia’s network, A Partnership for Youth
Youth Pool Toolkit by Inter Alia’s network, A Partnership for Youth