European Youth Forum: Safeguarding Civic Space for Young People in Europe

-The report by the European Youth Forum, accessible here


Space for active participation is shrinking

Over the years, we have, unfortunately, witnessed a crackdown against civil society, including youth organisations, in various European countries. This trend is continuing in 2020, with extremely worrying signs that the COVID-19 health crisis is being used to gain political control, putting many dimensions of civic space under threat. With our new study, Safeguarding Civic Space for Young People in Europe, the European Youth Forum aims to put the spotlight on challenges faced by youth organisations in Europe.

As the voice of young people, the European Youth Forum has a mission to support independent, democratic, youth and volunteer-led platforms. With the evidence presented in this study, we will continue to fight for an enabling environment for youth organisations, where they are a vital part of a healthy democracy and where they can function without any barriers – financially, legally, politically and legitimately.

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Key findings of the study

In the last few years, we have witnessed a persistent trend of silencing youth organisations who play a key role in advocating for youth rights and upholding democratic values. In our study, we find that this trend is not limited to the ‘usual suspects’ but can be seen everywhere – irrespective of the country’s democratic tradition, prevailing social cleavages, wealth, human rights record, or geographical location.

 2/5 of organisations do not feel certain that the organisation of or participation in public assemblies will not result in some form of retribution.

Our research reveals that for youth organisations to function and advocate for young people, they have to overcome significant challenges. One of these challenges, especially in non-EU countries, is to be able to function independently or without government interference. This struggle for independence relates strongly to issues of funding as well – for example, where 1/3 of youththese organisations experience barriers to acquiring foreign funding.
About 1/3 of youth organisations across Europe face difficulties when trying to participate in policy deliberation and decision-making processes.

Opportunities for youth organisations to participate in policy processes were also reported to be restricted and limited. Issues such as language barriers, limited timeframes, lack of support for meaningful participation and sporadic use of consultation mechanisms, are preventing youth voices being heard.

1/2 organisations see that youth is either present, but under-represented, has limited access to civic space, or is largely or completely marginalised.

Age creates a significant reduction in access to civic space, but even more so when combined with other factors. 1/5 of organisations believe that economically disadvantaged groups are marginalised to some extent and more than 1/3 of youth organisations believe that women are underrepresented, have limited access to civic space or are largely marginalised.

1/3 of organisations deemed that human rights are only moderately respected when it comes to youth, 1/8 of them say to a limited extent or not at all.

Overall, the study reveals that preconditions for effective and meaningful civic space – respect of human rights and freedoms, effective rule of law and freedom from political pressures – are far from secure. Abuse of power and overall inability to secure these rights and freedoms in practice means that the general standards are not met.

Key Recommendations for all relevant stakeholders

  • Recognise that young people are rights holders, face unique challenges and need unique support.
  • Provide resources for the basic functioning of youth organisations.
  • Devote attention also to informal groups/initiatives of young people and support them with different measures.
  • Invest in capacity building of young people and youth organisations.
  • Strengthen detection and prevention of anti-democratic measures arising, especially from a youth perspective.
  • Define civic space and democratic actions together with young people and revisit them over time.
  • Support the meaningful participation of young people in public affairs, with a non-technocratic language, as well as their native language where applicable.
  • Introduce systematic monitoring of countries’ performance in regards to safeguarding civic spaces for young people.
  • Introduce analytical data regarding civic spaces of young people across identities, cultures and communities.