Youth is a national policy area. Harmonisation of Member States’ legislation is excluded. The EU therefore plays a supporting role. As such, the youth strand of the Erasmus+ programme encourages exchanges of young people within the EU and with third countries. Over the past few years, the European Union has strengthened its policies towards young people, as illustrated by the European Solidarity Corps initiative and the DiscoverEU project.

Legal basis

Articles 165 and 166 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) are the basis for EU action in the youth field. Action falling within the scope of Articles 165 and 166 is subject to the ordinary legislative procedure. As regards youth policy, any harmonisation of Member States’ legislation is expressly excluded. The Council may adopt recommendations based on Commission proposals.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which has the same legal value as the treaties (Article 6 of the Treaty on European Union), includes an article on children’s rights (Article 24) and an article forbidding child labour and providing for protection of young people in the workplace (Article 32).


Article 165 of the TFEU provides for Union action in order to encourage the development of youth exchanges and exchanges between youth workers, and to encourage the participation of young people in democratic life in Europe. Article 166 enables the EU to implement a vocational training policy to support and supplement the action of the Member States. It tasks the Union with facilitating access to vocational training and encouraging mobility of instructors and trainees, particularly young people.

In addition to these provisions, children and young people benefit from EU policies in other fields, such as education, training and health, or in relation to the rights and protection of children and young people.


A. Strategic Framework

1. Europe 2020 strategy

Launched in 2010, the Europe 2020 strategy focuses on young people and centres on a variety of objectives, including reducing early school leaving, increasing the proportion of people aged 30-34 who have completed tertiary education and developing a comprehensive package of policy initiatives for education and employment.

2. EU Youth Strategy 2019-2027: engaging, connecting and empowering young people

On 26 November 2018, the Council adopted a resolution on the new EU Youth Strategy 2019-2027. The text proposes that particular attention be devoted to the following points:

  • Fostering the participation of young people in civic and democratic life;
  • Connecting young people across the European Union and beyond to foster voluntary engagement, learning mobility, solidarity and intercultural understanding;
  • Supporting youth empowerment through quality, innovation and the recognition of youth work.

B. EU spending programmes on youth

1. Erasmus+

Erasmus+ contains a specific chapter on youth, for which approximately EUR 2.1 billion has been set aside. Its specific objectives are to: (1) improve the skills level of young people, support their participation in democratic life and in the labour market, and promote active citizenship, intercultural dialogue, social inclusion and solidarity; (2) improve the quality of youth work; (3) complement policy reforms at local, regional and national level; and (4) enhance the international dimension of youth activities and the role of socio-educational organisations. Under the new Erasmus programme for 2021-2027 some 10.3% of the budget is earmarked for youth activities. One of the aims of the programme is to promote a sense of belonging to the European Union by means of a new initiative called DiscoverEU, which gives young people opportunities to discover Europe’s diversity through its cultural heritage. Beneficiaries of DiscoverEU include school pupils and higher education students, but also trainees and youth workers.

2. European Solidarity Corps

Launched in December 2016, the European Solidarity Corps is an initiative which aims to give young people aged 18-35 the opportunity to take part in solidarity activities in their own country or abroad through volunteering, a traineeship or a job. To date, more than 160 000 young people have taken advantage of the scheme.

C. Other EU initiatives

1. The Youth Guarantee

In April 2013, the Council adopted a recommendation on establishing a Youth Guarantee (OJ C 120, 26.4.2013, p. 1). This is a scheme to ensure that young people receive a good-quality offer of employment, further education or training within four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education. EU financial assistance is available in particular in regions where the youth unemployment rate exceeds 25%[1]. Given the success of the Youth Guarantee, the Commission announced in July 2020 that it would be reinforced by means of a Council Recommendation on ‘A Bridge to Jobs: Reinforcing the Youth Guarantee’. That recommendation was adopted on 30 October 2020.

2. Child protection policies

As laid down in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), a child is any human being below the age of 18. The Treaty of Lisbon introduced an objective for the EU to promote children’s rights, while the Charter of Fundamental Rights guarantees the protection of children’s rights by EU institutions, as well as by Member States.

On 15 February 2011, the Commission adopted a communication entitled ‘An EU Agenda for the Rights of the Child’ (COM(2011) 0060). Its purpose is to reaffirm the strong commitment of all EU institutions and of all Member States to promoting, protecting and fulfilling the rights of the child in all relevant EU policies, and the willingness to translate this commitment into concrete results. The rights of the child and the prevention of violence against children, young people, women and other groups at risk are also protected and promoted under the Rights and Values programme (2021-2027).

In 2016, the European Parliament and the Council adopted a directive on procedural safeguards for children who are suspects or accused persons in criminal proceedings (OJ L 132, 21.5.2016, p. 1), in order to ensure that children who are suspects or accused persons in criminal proceedings are able to understand and follow those proceedings and to exercise their right to a fair trial, and to prevent children from reoffending and foster their social integration.

3. Youth and media

Online technologies offer a great opportunity for children and young people to access knowledge and to benefit from digital learning and to participate in public debate. However, children can also be especially vulnerable to modern technology. For this reason, the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (OJ L 95, 15.4.2010, p. 1) prohibits the inclusion in linear TV services of any content which might be seriously harmful to minors. Any such content must therefore must either be broadcast at a time when children will not be watching, or blocked using technological means to prevent access. In the case of non-linear on-demand audiovisual media services, such content may only be made available in such a way that minors would not ordinarily come into contact with it. On 25 May 2016, the Commission published a new legislative proposal amending the Audiovisual Media Services Directive. Key elements of the text agreed include protecting minors from content that ‘may impair’ them, combating hate speech and protecting minors from harmful content.

4. European Youth Portal

The European Youth Portal is a website to help young people all over Europe navigate the many opportunities the EU offers in different areas of interest, such as volunteering, working, learning, culture and creativity, and many others.

5. European Youth Week

Every two years, the Commission, together with Parliament, organises the European Youth Week, whose purpose is both to celebrate youth activities across all of the countries taking part in the Erasmus programme and to present the various mobility opportunities that are on offer to young people in the EU.

6. European Youth Capital

The ‘European Youth Capital’ is an initiative created in 2009 by the European Youth Forum. Every year, a European city chosen to be the European Youth Capital is given the opportunity to highlight innovative initiatives launched by and for young people.

7. Youth4Regions competition

The Youth4Regions competition is aimed at young journalists interested in the EU’s regional policy. The winners of the competition can receive training on European issues and mentoring from senior journalists, as well as having the opportunity to take part in press trips to the Member States organised by the Commission.

Role of the European Parliament

Parliament has always supported close cooperation between Member States in the youth field. It has taken an active role in the formulation of youth policy, for example in its resolutions on the assessment of the EU Youth Strategy 2013-2015 (OJ C 215, 19.6.2018, p. 212), on a Youth Guarantee (OJ C 440, 30.12.2015, p. 67), on promoting youth entrepreneurship through education and training (OJ C 316, 22.9.2017, p. 76), on youth employment (OJ C 224, 21.6.2016, p. 19) and on skills policies for fighting youth unemployment (OJ C 11, 12.1.2018, p. 44).

In December 2020, the Council and the European Parliament reached a provisional agreement on the European Solidarity Corps programme for the period 2021-2027. The programme has a budget of more than one billion euros, allowing some 350 000 young people to participate. MEPs voted for the programme to be made more accessible to young people with fewer opportunities, such as people with disabilities and those from isolated or marginalised communities, and to young people with learning or health difficulties. They also supported a clear distinction being made between volunteering activities and job placements to avoid participating organisations using young people as unpaid volunteers when potential quality jobs exist. Parliament insisted that host organisations need be prove the quality of the activities on offer. Lastly, it ensured that the programme will be assessed in terms of its contribution to the EU’s climate objectives.

In its resolution of 14 September 2017 (OJ C 337, 20.9.2018, p. 131), Parliament recommended aligning the priorities of the Erasmus programme, the EU Youth Strategy and other EU-funded programmes. It was also Parliament which recommended that more than 10 % of the budget of the Erasmus programme should be spent on youth activities[2].

Parliament also safeguards the best interests of children on the basis of petitions addressed to it (OJ C 66, 21.2.2018, p. 2). It has adopted a resolution on child poverty (OJ C 366, 27.10.2017, p. 19). Parliament has also focused on children’s rights beyond the EU’s borders, in particular by adopting resolutions on education for children in emergency situations and protracted crises (OJ C 366, 27.10.2017, p. 151) and on child malnutrition in developing countries (OJ C 289, 9.8.2016, p. 71). In 2015, it adopted a resolution on fighting child sexual abuse on the internet (OJ C 316, 30.8.2016, p. 109)[3]. During its plenary session in October 2018, it adopted the Commission’s legislative proposal for a revised Audiovisual Media Services Directive (OJ C 11, 13.1.2020, p. 64). Under the new provisions, broadcasters will be required to reduce children’s exposure to publicity on unhealthy food or beverages; content inciting violence, hatred and terrorism will be proscribed; and gratuitous violence and pornography will be subject to highly stringent rules.

To encourage young people to pursue European projects of their own, Parliament and the Foundation of the International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen launched the European Charlemagne Youth Prize in 2008, which is awarded every year to projects which promote European and international understanding.


[1]For further information see Fact Sheet 2.3.2 on the European Social Fund, section B.2.
[2]Texts adopted, P8_TA(2019)0324.
[3]For further information, see Fact Sheet 3.6.2 on Audiovisual and media policy.

Pierre Hériard