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Mr. President, Excellencies, distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,
I am speaking on behalf of the European Union and its Member States.
The Candidate Countries the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*, Montenegro*, Serbia* and Albania*, the country of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidate Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the EFTA country Liechtenstein, members of the European Economic Area, as well as Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova, and Georgia, align themselves with this statement.
I thank the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Youth, Ms. Jayathma Wickramanyake, the lead author of the independent progress study on youth, peace and security Mr. Graeme Simpson, and the representative of youth, Ms. Sophia Pierre-Antoine, for their statements. Allow me to take this opportunity to also express the EU’s appreciation for the independent progress study, and our support for its recommendations. We congratulate the lead author, the Advisory Group of Experts, the UN entities, in particular PBSO and UNFPA, and all other partners who have supported the development of the progress study. The EU contributed to this landmark process through hosting a European regional consultation on youth, peace and security, bringing together 44 young peacebuilders from 34 European countries. We welcomed this opportunity to channel the voices of young Europe into the progress study.
The EU applauds this open debate and the envisaged adoption of a new UN Security Council Resolution on youth, peace and security. We anticipate a forward looking, strategic outcome to accelerate the implementation of the youth, peace and security agenda at national, regional and global level. In this context, we would very much favour an annual implementation report by the Secretary-General on youth, peace and security as well as yearly open debates in the UN Security Council, including briefings by young peacebuilders.
The voices speaking to us are the voices of the biggest youth population in the history of humanity. Worldwide, 1.8 billion young people want to make their voices heard. Their vast majority are living in low-income countries, and many of them are affected by conflict. The youth, peace and security agenda reminds us that young people want to be listened to on all matters that affect them, including peace and security. In fact, many of our youth want more than being listened to. They want to take action and they want to lead. Recognising and empowering these aspirations is the promise of the youth, peace and security agenda.
The EU has long been a leading force for youth empowerment and for partnerships with young people. In a ministerial meeting on youth, peace and security, held here in in the UN in September 2017, the EU joined the Champions of Youth Group, which now counts eleven EU Member States and the Union as the only multilateral partner. At this same ministerial meeting, the EU High Representative, Ms. Federica Mogherini, asserted that: "UN Security Council Resolution 2250 has finally put things in the right perspective".
So what is the right perspective; what is the EU perspective on youth, peace and security?
We know that simplistic approaches to young people are misguided and misleading. We contest romanticising, patronising or demonising stereotypes about young men and women. We are well aware that not all young people are enabled to be peacebuilders, innovators or change-makers. We do not claim to give young people a voice. They have their own voice. Our responsibility is to lift up and empower those voices. And we definitely challenge generalisations which identify young people with the risk of violence, which mistake young men for "potential perpetrators", and mistake young women for "potential victims". Stereotypes about youth tend to overexpose the violent minority at the expense of the peaceful majority.
What do we see, then, when we put things in the right perspective? We see that the overwhelming majority of young people are peaceful. We see that societies which offer more opportunities for young people to participate in public life are less disposed to violence. And we see that too little is done to harness the potential of the "youth boom" to prevent conflict and to sustain peace.
The progress study and this Open Debate combine into an invaluable opportunity to shift the paradigm on youth. The progress study tells us that too many young people around the world feel affected by systemic and extensive exclusion and marginalisation. It tells us that serious human rights concerns have been expressed by young people worldwide. It tells us that youth employment and education are no cure-all for the problem of youth violence. Crucially, the progress study also lays out an agenda for action. In this context, the EU fully shares the view that violence prevention and sustaining peace is best served by addressing young people's experiences of exclusion and marginalisation. Against the backdrop of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we recognise the imperative of promoting and protecting young people's human rights, in particular through supporting youth-led initiatives. The EU also heeds the call of young people, amplified by the progress study, to prioritize and invest in youth-based and youth-led peacebuilding.
So, how does the EU include young people in our collective efforts on peace and security? How do we invest in young people's resilience? How do we empower young people's leadership?
Let us take inclusion first. Through decades of working for and with youth, we have learned that the inclusive approach is the best approach. We see the youth, peace and security agenda as a cornerstone of inclusive peacebuilding, a cornerstone of sustaining peace. Whether we engage with state institutions or with young peacebuilders, we want national stakeholders to have the driving seat. The EU strives to promote broad-based and people-centered peacebuilding coalitions, which meaningfully include youth, women, civil society organisations and other social actors. In this context, we will continue to coordinate our efforts on implementing the youth, peace and security agenda and the women, peace and security agenda. The two agendas are closely interlinked and mutually reinforcing. We need to empower young women and men to promote gender equality as a strategy of conflict prevention. And we need to address the gender specific impacts of conflict on youth.
For the EU, youth inclusion starts with listening to the real voices of real young people. We do not aspire to tell young people how to build peaceful, just and inclusive societies. We want to engage in a dialogue of equals and to learn from each other. We want to understand young people's peacebuilding initiatives. And we will continue to find opportunities to support and scale up these initiatives.
The EU High Representative has been personally engaged in dialogue with young peacebuilders from Europe, the Middle-East and North Africa, from the Sahel and from other regions. Only over the past 12 months, Ms. Mogherini has directly exchanged with more than 200 young peacebuilders from almost 50 countries.
Exactly a month from now, the EU will host an innovative and inclusive Conference on Youth, Peace and Security, in partnership with the United Nations and civil society. In line with our approach to meaningful youth inclusion, we have invited to this Conference young peacebuilders from within and outside the EU. The Conference will create a level playing field for interactive dialogue between young peacebuilders and leaders and stakeholders from the EU Institutions, EU Member States, the UN system and other multilateral and non-governmental partners. Our Conference will further reinforce the momentum of the EU implementation of the youth, peace and security agenda and of EU-UN cooperation on youth in peacebuilding.
Turning to EU investment into young people’s resilience, our crisis prevention and response projects alone count 16 activities on four continents to reduce the vulnerabilities and to reinforce the positive coping capacities of young people. For instance, we just launched a project with UNICEF to strengthen the resilience and civic engagement of adolescents and youth in conflict-affected Eastern-Ukraine. A global project with UNESCO works to strengthen education sector planning capacities for conflict prevention and crisis preparedness. Another EU project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo reinforces youth involvement in conflict prevention in areas affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Over the past 30 years, our Erasmus programme has grown into one of the biggest EU success stories, and in many respects, one of the biggest peacebuilding projects on the continent. Through empowering young people and supporting mobility and exchange in Europe and beyond, Erasmus has enriched the lives of more than 9 million young men and women, and many others still stand to benefit from it. Another EU initiative is the European Solidarity Corps, to which over 50.000 young people have already registered. They are showing their eagerness to engage in solidarity activities, in their own country or abroad, in areas ranging from citizenship and democratic participation to disaster prevention and recovery.
In line with our strategic approach to resilience, we will continue our investments into young people, both within and outside the EU.
As regards youth leadership, the EU fully shares the call of the progress study to maximize youth ownership and agency on peace and security. One illustration of how we empower young people’s leadership is our Africa-EU partnership. The 5th AU-EU Summit, which took place in Abidjan last November, addressed “Investing in Youth for an Accelerated Growth and Sustainable Development" as its overarching theme. In the spirit, we have created an AU-EU Youth Track to ensure the meaningful and strengthened inclusion of young Europeans, Africans and diaspora into the Summit. The AU-EU Youth Track saw 120 young people providing political recommendations on priority topics for the AU and the EU. Moreover, 36 out of these young people spent five weeks working intensely with the AU and EU structures to develop the youth recommendations into a youth agenda, with concrete initiatives and proposals. This youth agenda has been presented to African and European state leaders in the Summit. We are currently working on a follow-up mechanism to ensure the continuous inclusion of young people in the Africa-EU partnership. We are also looking at possibilities to financially support the implementation of the concrete proposals developed by young people for the AU-EU Summit.
The EU’s Global Strategy on Foreign and Security policy directs us to deepen work on education, culture and youth to foster pluralism, coexistence and respect. The European Consensus on Development asserts that young people are agents of development and change and essential contributors to the 2030 Agenda. The Consensus also commits the EU and its Member States to strengthen the rights of young people and their empowerment in the conduct of public affairs.
As the progress study points out, young people’s work is a connector across peace and security, human rights, sustainable development and humanitarian affairs. In the same vein, the EU’s work for and with young people connects all actors, policies and instruments of the EU, and represents a key aspect of the coherence of our action within and outside the Union.
Many people, across all ages and generations, are ready to make a difference to build peace. Mobilising the potential of young people as peacebuilders is the issue of our time. The youth, peace and security agenda charts out the way forward for all of us, working together. For the EU, this is an agenda for the social, political and economic inclusion of young people; an agenda for youth empowerment; an agenda for harnessing the energy and capacities of youth; and an agenda for creating new and enduring partnerships with youth.
The EU remains committed to implementing the youth, peace and security agenda, as the “missing piece” in our collective quest of realising the global ambitions of conflict prevention, sustaining peace and sustainable development. We will continue our work to translate the demographic dividend into a peace dividend, in inclusive partnerships, leaving no one behind.
* The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.