Citizenship, Education and Democracy through the Youth Forum of European Union (YFEU)

Author: Gaetano Morese

In the aftermath of 1968, an opportunity emerged in the European integration process to involve young Europeans through representative democratic institutions.1 After a complex process, representatives of some European youth organizations set up the Youth Forum of the European Communities (later of the European Union) in 1978 in Ariccia, near Rome. Funded by the Community, YFEC consisted of National Youth Councils representing each member country and of international non-governmental youth organizations active in Europe. Its function was to promote and support young people’s needs, raise awareness of community issues and put pressure on European institutions to adopt policies and initiatives able to solve youth problems. As a Community consultative body, YFEC organized itself internally with democratic structures and processes in order to elaborate policies, positions, and actions. In its activities, which were maintained until 1996 when YFEC merged with other platforms in the still existing European Youth Forum, YFEC was a democratic institution that contributed to the elaboration of European citizenship rights, with particular attention to the youth. At the same time, it promoted various activities and initiatives in favour of education for democracy and citizenship. It also put education at the centre of European youth policies, as a fundamental factor to build a shared identity. Its evident international vocation later led YFEC to expand its activities with the promotion of dialogues, meetings and cooperations with developing countries, particularly in the Euro-Mediterranean area and in Latin America. YFEC kept promoting democratic forms of participation, recognition of rights and educational activities dedicated to young people.    

YFEC published annual reports on its activities. This cover is of the 1989 Annual Report, a historic date in European and world history.
Historical Archive of the European Union, Youth Forum of the European Communities, 54, 1982-1994, Annual Reports, Annual Report of the YFEC, 1989.

In 1988 YFEC launched a competition asking young Europeans to propose their vision of “1992”, the year marking the creation of the Single Market. YFEC used the competition to get recognition as instance representating the youth towards the European Community.
Historical Archive of the European Union, Youth Forum of the European Communities, 55, 1982-1987, Various Publications, Visual Competition Manifesto of the YFEC on the “1992”, 1988.

YFEC and Democracy

The YFEC went beyond adopting representative forms and democratic decision-making processes. It also supported the right of the youth to be consulted by community institutions. It openly believed that political decisions taken by the European Community with regard to the youth would produce effects in all member countries. With its democratic objectives, YFEC thus deemed it necessary to be consulted as a European representative platform. In concrete terms, YFEC managed to establish an excellent relationship of collaboration with the European Parliament, supporting, among other things, the participation of young people in the elections to the European Parliament. YFEC also entertained good relations and contacts with the European Commission, whereas those with the Council of Ministers were more problematic. Over time, YFEC also developed relations with the Council of Europe, in particular regarding human rights issues and partnerships with Eastern neighbours. In its political activities, YFEC promoted various initiatives to raise awareness on work issues, environment, development, always with a focus on youth. It also supported extra-European cooperation and collaboration, i.e. by sustaining the birth of youth representative institutions in African, Latin American and Middle Eastern countries. Its most important achievement was the mention of youth exchanges and socio-educational animators (article 126) and access to vocational training for young people (article 127) in the European Union founding treaties. YFEC supported the idea of a United States of Europe and the European Parliament’s role in drafting the European constitution. In this process, YFEC was also committed to promoting a European youth policy.  

YFEC supported the young European federalists in their aim to establish the United States of Europe as a democratic instrument of participation. In 1984, YFEC held a seminar on the institutional reforms of the Community and proposed its own policy statement.
Historical Archive of the European Union, Youth Forum of the European Communities, 55, 1982-1987, Various Publications, YFEC, Democratisation of the European Communities, Report of the seminar on the institutional reform of the European Communities leading to the establishment of a European Union, 1984.

YFEC and Citizenship

In the construction process of European citizenship, YFEC always supported youth prerogatives, aiming at the recognition of fundamental, social, labour, and educational rights in the Community context. Since its establishment, YFEC has therefore promoted and published studies on young people’s general situation in European countries, highlighting the many difficulties they were facing, depending on national contexts. Marginalization, unemployment, discrimination – especially discrimination the base of gender – were among the main problems that YFEC tried to counter and to correct. Specifically, based on these studies, YFEC has drawn various charters of youth rights by linking them to human rights, with the aim to have them approved and applied by the Community and member states. At the same time, these charters represented a milestone for young Europeans who used it as a reference to know their citizenship rights and ask for their respect. Furthermore, YFEC requested that these rights had also be extended to migrants who were residing for at least five years in a member state for reasons of work or family reunification. YFEC even supported the introduction of suffrage rights for migrants. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the eastward enlargement of the EU, YFEC continued its activity for the recognition of youth rights as European citizens, always promoting the need to overcome inequalities and injustices produced by a society that they labelled as “capitalist” and individualist.

One of the first YFEC initiatives in 1982 was to study and compare the legal status of young people in European countries.
Historical Archive of the European Union, Youth Forum of the European Communities, 55, 1982-1987, Various Publications, YFEC, Droits des jeunes dans la Communauté Européenne, une étude comparative sur le statut légal des jeunes dans les dix Etats membres, 1982.

YFEC published its magazine, “Youth Opinion”, to share its activities with ist member organizations and various European institutions. In 1990, among other initiatives, YFEC held a meeting in Avignon on the rights of young people in Europe, with the aim to launch European educational and employment policies championned by Jacques Delors, president of the European Commission.
Historical Archive of the European Union, Youth Forum of the European Communities, 41, 01/1984-03/1991, “Youth Forum Bulletin”, YFEC, Forum Jeunesse, Edition Special, Colloque sur les droits des jeunes en Europe, 3/1990, Mars.

YFEC and Education

The leading theme addressed by YFEC was education for younger generations, regarding both fundamental citizenship education and skill-based training for the labour market. YFEC immediately carried out several studies on the various educational systems across the Community and their consequences for young people. Supported by the European Parliament, YFEC led a fight against illiteracy, an issue affecting a large number of EU citizens, not least among the youth. A lack of minimum skills to enter the labour market was also regarded as illiteracy, as it could produce marginalization and inequalities, while education was a recognized right for citizens. Over time, with the implementation of community programs dedicated to youth such as Erasmus or Yes 4 Europe, YFEC underlined the importance of intercultural education as a factor in building a peaceful coexistence and shared citizenship. Intercultural education mattered not only for relations between citizens of member states, but for the integration of migrants coming from developing countries within the European democratic framework. At the same time, YFEC fought for the mutual recognition of educational qualifications between member states and for simplifications in school and university exchanges. Next to defining its educational goals, YFEC articulated its policies and activities between formal education (in institutional framworks), non-formal and informal education (acquired during voluntary activities for instance), and vocational training (with the aim of acquiring professional skills). Following the democratic principles of the Community, YFEC wanted to facilitate the integration of youngsters in the labour market with formal, non-formal and informal education as well as vocational training. Its aim remained to develop a wider awareness of European citizenship.

On the educational front, YFEC entered into the fight against illiteracy, as in 1982 with an information seminar on this issue in Europe.
Historical Archive of the European Union, Youth Forum of the European Communities, 55, 1982-1987, Various Publications, YFEC, The fight against illiteracy in the European Community, report on the problems of illiteracy, in particular concerning the possible role of the E.C., 1982.

Education was a central theme for YFEC. The Forum interpreted this notion in a broad sense, as in the case of environmental or intercultural education. In 1983 YFEC organised a workshop on intercultural education in the European community to foster integration and mutual understanding not only between Member States but also with migrants residing in Europe, often victims of racism and xenophobia.
Historical Archive of the European Union, Youth Forum of the European Communities, 55, 1982-1987, Various Publications, YFEC, Intercultural education: proposals for an adequate E.C. Policy, report of a workshop on intercultural education in the European Communities, 1983.

In 1985, the International Year of Youth, YFEC presented a statement for the European Commission’s Memorandum addressing questions of education, training and participation. It asked for shared school programs, greater openness to new technologies and educational interventions for ethnic minorities and migrants.
Historical Archive of the European Union, Youth Forum of the European Communities, 55, 1982-1987, Various Publications, YFEC, Youth Forum Statement on the European Commission’s Memorandum on International Youth Year, 1985. 

In 1987, YFEC presented a Policy Statement on vocational training for young people addressing social inequalities at the local, national and European level.
Historical Archive of the European Union, Youth Forum of the European Communities, 55, 1982-1987, Various Publications, YFEC, A European perspective on vocational training for young people. Policy statement of the Youth forum of the European Communities, January 1987.

  1. I have conducted this  research on the Youth Forum of the European Communities on the basis of its documentation preserved at the Historical Archive of the European Union in Florence and with the support of a Vibeke Sørensen Grant provided by the European University Institute of Florence in 2019. []

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