EU budget raises questions on inclusion & accessibility for youth
The European Commission last week announced a further breakdown of how it plans to invest in youth in the post-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), through the:
- Post-2020 Erasmus programme
- European Social Fund + (including the Youth Employment Initiative)
- Justice, Rights and Values Fund
These programme proposals are vital for young people in the upcoming EU budget. While there are many positive aspects that have been put forward, there is room for improvement to ensure that this budget actively works for young people.
A good start for Erasmus
It is clear that the contribution of youth organisations to furthering the objectives of the current Erasmus+ programme, particularly the youth chapter, has a significant value. We are glad to see that this is reflected through continued support to these youth organisations.
More money, but falling short
The increase in funding for Erasmus to €30bn and the doubling of the youth chapter in actual funds to €3.1bn is good news for young people and youth organisations.
However, in order to reach out to a wider group of young people (one of the priority areas for the programme) we still lack the necessary funding.
For the Erasmus programme to be truly ambitious in achieving this goal, the European Youth Forum calls for the amount allocated to the youth chapter to be increased to 15%, as outlined in our policy paper on the future Erasmus programme. Despite being clearly underfunded throughout the current programme period, it is clear that actions under the youth chapter have been the most successful at “reaching out to young people with fewer opportunities (31% of beneficiaries) by applying inclusive, non-formal learning approaches”, as highlighted in the impact assessment released by the European Commission with the proposal.
Accessible for all vs a select few
The European Commission’s proposal also includes the concept of a simplified system aimed at fostering more youth participation through activities and small scale partnerships. This is a necessary step to counter the heavy and disproportionate administrative burden faced by small organisations and unorganised young people in the current programme. However, the European Commission needs to provide more detailed information as to how it plans to reinvent these models.
It also remains to be seen how Erasmus will link with other EU policies and programmes. The fact that the future EU Youth Strategy is referred to in the regulation is welcome and while it is good to see that there is a link between Erasmus and the European Social Fund +, linkages with other funds will also be necessary. We look forward to further clarity as to how the scaling-up of Erasmus projects to apply for grants will work and further details as to their accessibility for all youth organisations.
Digital exchanges have also been identified as a focus area in the proposal, however, we remain sceptical that they will be the right tool to involve more young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in the Erasmus programme. Further clarification is needed as to what kind of comprehensive support will be provided to these young people.
DiscoverEU - still far from being truly inclusive
Many questions still remain on the DiscoverEU project and how it will be implemented.
To ensure young people gain more from this experience and that the project is coherent with the objectives of Erasmus, an educational perspective must be incorporated. In addition, DiscoverEU is currently only available to a very small group of young people. As the initiative only covers the cost of the train ticket itself, those young people who cannot afford to pay for accommodation, secondary transportation or meals are prevented from partaking in the programme. To be truly inclusive and serious about reaching out, the EU needs to be open to involving all young people in new initiatives.
Towards a more impactful European Social Fund
We are pleased to see that employment, education and inclusion are the three main policy areas identified in the European Social Fund (ESF+). However while funding has been set to increase, question marks remain as to the concrete impact of such increase, given that the new fund incorporates many previously separate funding streams.
The European Youth Forum welcomes that our call for 25% earmarking for social inclusion (compared to current 20%), has been reflected in the proposal as we called for in our position on the post-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework.
There are a few notable positive developments that the European Commission has identified in tackling the issue of youth employment. Namely, earmarking 10% of funding for youth employment in certain countries, using a social indicator (NEET rate), and widening the age range (15-29).
What is still missing from the proposal however is information as to how much will be allocated in absolute numbers. For example, according to the European Youth Forum’s calculations, €23bn would be required for the successor to the Youth Employment Initiative to have the capability to fully implement the Youth Guarantee.
Furthermore, the ESF+ proposal mentions earmarking for youth employment in “outermost regions”, but as yet it is unclear how it will build upon the Youth Employment Initiative’s strong regional dimension. Links between the ESF+ and cohesion policy also need to be made clearer.
When it comes to the European Semester, the European Youth Forum wants to see the Semester process becoming much more social, and that Country Specific Recommendations truly reflect social issues. We call on Member States to ensure that this aspect is incorporated into the future European Semester process.
Inclusion of Migrants
ESF+ makes reference to fostering the long-term integration of legally present non-EU nationals into the labour market and society.
However, the European Youth Forum is concerned about how this has been put forward in the proposal. By dividing short term needs and long term integration, the rights of migrants are put at risk and the potential for serious rights violations to occur is increased. In addition, this distinction may hinder the integration of those asylum-seekers who receive international protection at the end of their asylum claim.
Finally, the addition of migrant integration as a core focus of the ESF+ will require an increase in the overall allocated budget. Within this proposal, there are no assurances that there will be earmarking of funds available for the integration of migrants and refugees.
Rights, Justice and Values programme
The Rights and Values Programme strand of this new programme that integrates the former Europe for Citizens programme has been allocated €233 million. The European Youth Forum reiterates it’s call for €500 million, or €1 per citizen.
The European Youth Forum welcomes the clear intention from the European Commission that this programme will be a tool to support NGOs, particularly those that are not always supported by Member States. However, it must be ensured that support is available for all civil society organisations working to promote European values and foster European citizenship.
We note with concern that there is a lack of detail as to how to tackle the declining participation of vulnerable groups in democratic processes. We call on the Member States to further this work and to provide particular provision to include vulnerable groups in all aspects of the future programme.
We welcome the allocation of funding to finance technical and organisational support to implement the European Citizens’ Initiative. This measure will support citizens in exercising their rights, contributing to a participatory approach and potentially boosting European democracy.
We also welcome the efforts to engage young people, and note with satisfaction the references to synergies with other youth programmes.