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Document 52024SC0090

COMMISSION STAFF WORKING DOCUMENT Evaluation Accompanying the document Report from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on the interim evaluation of the EU Youth Strategy 2019-2027

SWD/2024/90 final

Brussels, 11.4.2024

SWD(2024) 90 final

COMMISSION STAFF WORKING DOCUMENT

Evaluation

Accompanying the document

Report from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions

on the interim evaluation of the EU Youth Strategy 2019-2027

{COM(2024) 162 final}


Table of contents

1.Introduction

2.What was the expected outcome of the intervention?

2.1.Description of the EU Youth Strategy and its objectives

2.2.Points of comparison

3.How has the situation evolved over the evaluation period?

3.1.Current state of play

4.Evaluation findings

4.1.To what extent was the intervention successful and why?

4.2.How has the EU intervention made a difference and to whom?

4.3.Is the intervention still relevant?

5.What are the conclusions and lessons learned?

Annex I. Procedural information

Annex II. Methodology and analytical models used

Annex III. Evaluation matrix

Annex IV. Overview of benefits and costs and, where relevant, table on simplification and burden reduction.

Annex V. Stakeholder consultation – synopsis report



Glossary

Term or acronym

Meaning or definition

ALMA

Aim – Learn – Master – Achieve

BIK+

Better Internet for Kids Strategy

CERV

Citizens, Equality, Rights and Values Programme

CoE

Council of Europe

CSO

Civil Society Organisation

DG EAC

Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture

DG

Directorate-General

EACEA

European Education and Culture Executive Agency

EAGFRD

European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development

EAGF

European Agricultural Guarantee Fund

EQ

Evaluation Questions

ERDF

European Regional Development Fund

ESF+

European Social Fund Plus

ESN

Erasmus Student Network

EUYD, EU Youth Dialogue

European Union Youth Dialogue

EUYS

The EU Youth Strategy

EYE

European Youth Event

Youth Portal

European Youth Portal

Year

European Year of Youth

FNAPs

Future National Activities Planners

NEETs

Not in Education, Employment or Training

OMC

Open Method of Coordination

TFEU

Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

RRF

Recovery and Resilience Facility

UN SDG

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

1.Introduction

This staff working document describes the purpose, methodology and findings of the European Commission’s interim evaluation of the European Union Youth Strategy 2019-2027 (hereafter referred to as ‘EUYS’), which is the framework for EU cooperation in the youth field based on the Council Resolution of 18 December 2018 1 .  

Purpose

Based on the Council Resolution establishing the EUYS, and in line with the European Commission's Better Regulation Guidelines 2 , the purpose was to provide an interim evaluation of the EUYS, assessing its effectiveness, efficiency, relevance, coherence, and EU-added value at mid-point.

The results will be used as input to eventually develop and adapt the instruments and initiatives in the context of the implementation of the EUYS, to guide potential adjustments to the EUYS and its alignment with evolving developments, challenges, and needs of young people. The results will also inform the reflections and preparations of the framework for EU youth policy cooperation beyond 2027.

Scope

The interim evaluation covers:

-the period from 2019 to part of 2023, which represents the midway point of the EUYS’ implementation;

-the analysis of the performance of the EUYS in all EU Member States;

-the EUYS’ instruments and related initiatives, such as the EU Youth Dialogue, the EU Youth Coordinator, the European Youth Portal, mutual learning activities, knowledge- and evidence-building, the European Youth Work Agenda, and more.

-the alignment with the Erasmus+ and the European Solidarity Corps programmes and the effects of the 2022 European Year of Youth on the EUYS.

Methodology

The Commission’s interim evaluation was supported by an independent external evaluation assignment/support study 3 using a mixed-method approach to data collection and analysis, including qualitative and quantitative data and contribution analysis. The contribution analysis consisted of assessing the extent to which the EUYS contributed to the intended changes and included developing an intervention logic for the EUYS instruments, unpacking their implementation and using primary evidence validating the assumptions. In addition, a cost-effectiveness analysis was conducted using a defined framework to assess the costs associated with the EUYS. A steering group of relevant Commission departments oversaw the evaluation.  

The external evaluation assignment was carried out between February and December 2023 and included a public consultation and multiple targeted consultations. The consultation strategy for the evaluation was based on a mapping of stakeholders and the quantitative and qualitative data was mainly gathered through the following consultation activities:

·Call for evidence on the Commission’s 'Have Your Say' portal from 23 September to 21 October 2022.

·Public consultation on the ‘Have Your Say’-portal from 26 April to 2 August 2023.

·Quantitative data on awareness of the EUYS and engagement with its instruments, collected through:

-Online survey of young people

-Online survey of youth civil society organisations, youth researchers and youth informal groups

·Qualitative data on perceptions of the EUYS and examples of progress in its implementation, collected through:

-105 key informant interviews with 21 policy makers at EU level and 84 policy makers at national level and 3 focus groups with 15 decision and national policy makers, from 3 May to 20 June 2023;

-4 focus groups with 21 young people from 14 June to 8 August 2023Group interviews and individual interviews were performed with 9 civil society organisations, youth researchers and youth informal groups from 14 June to 23 August 2023.

Figure 1. Stakeholders’ participation in consultation activities.

Source: Kantar Public – Public Consultation on the EU Youth Strategy, 2023

The EU mandate 4 and the open method of coordination 5 in the field of youth policy set the scope for the intervention logic. The EUYS aims at contributing to the development of youth policies by encouraging cooperation and supporting and supplementing Member States' actions. This involves a challenge in identifying causality and in attributing and quantifying the specific effects of the EU Youth Strategy. The effect of the EUYS is thus often indirect, and mediated by stakeholders’ awareness, their buy in and alignment to the EUYS.  The performance of the EUYS relies to a large extent on Member States activities, their interest in exchanging and learning from each other, making use of the instruments available at EU level, and committing resources at national, regional and local levels to pursue the common objectives.

The evaluation encountered some challenges to data collection. The main limitations identified were the complexity of youth-related policies, potential overlaps with other evaluations, and limited evidence on human resource cost data. Mitigation measures involved prioritising qualitative methods such as key informant interviews and focus groups to capture insights on youth policies' complexity, methodology to differentiate from overlapping assessments, and quality checks in data collection.

The methodology is detailed in Annex I and II.

2.What was the expected outcome of the intervention?

2.1.Description of the EU Youth Strategy and its objectives

The EU Youth Strategy 2019-2027 builds on 20 years of European youth policy cooperation and aims to promote young people's participation in democratic life, in line with Article 165 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, to support social and civic engagement and to ensure that all young people have the necessary means to participate in society.

The overall objectives of the EUYS are to:

·enable young people to be architects of their own lives, support their personal development and growth to autonomy, build their resilience and equip them with life skills to cope with a changing world;

·encourage and equip young people with the necessary resources to become active citizens, agents of solidarity and positive change inspired by EU values and a European identity;

·improve policy decisions with regard to their impact on young people across all sectors, notably employment, education, health and social inclusion;

·contribute to the eradication of youth poverty and all forms of discrimination and promote the social inclusion of young people.

By pursuing the above objectives, the EUYS should also help realise the vision of young people as expressed in the 11 European Youth Goals 6 , which are part of the EUYS, by mobilising EU level policy and programme instruments and actions at national, regional and local levels by all stakeholders.

In short, the EUYS aims to engage, connect and empower young people, and to advance youth participation and youth mainstreaming across different policy areas. Through the open method of coordination, it encourages the development of youth policies across the EU and beyond, in synergy with other policies targeting young people such as education and training, employment, health, culture, environment, media literacy or digital skills. It also provides a policy framework for the EU youth programmes, which are Erasmus+ youth and the European Solidarity Corps.

The EUYS maintains a high degree of stability and continuity in overall objectives and instruments. At the same time, changes were introduced to better respond to the challenges and needs in a rapidly evolving society, to address the recommendations from the interim evaluation of the EU Youth Strategy 2010-2018 and to reflect input coming from stakeholders and young people.

The structure of the EUYS was simplified and the previous eight fields of action were rationalised into three core areas of the youth sector – ‘Engage, Connect, Empower’- – while also mainstreaming youth as a priority across different policy areas and emphasising the importance of greater youth involvement across the board.

The changes introduced in the 2019-2027 EU Youth Strategy, most of them resulting from the lessons learned from the interim evaluation of the predecessor framework 2010-2018, mainly consisted in adaptations linked to:

·More focus and flexibility to adapt European priorities in national contexts;

·Wider outreach to young people, in particular those with fewer opportunities;

·A new approach to working across policy areas;

·Improved transparency and monitoring framework;

·Multi-level and participatory governance;

·A clearer link between EU youth policy and related EU programme activities.

Concretely, the main new/strengthened actions included:

·Improve cross-sector cooperation across policy areas, including through the creation of an EU Youth Coordinator, to give youth a voice in shaping EU policies;

·Launch a new and more inclusive EU Youth Dialogue, with a focus on youth with fewer opportunities;

·Remove obstacles to and facilitate volunteering and solidarity mobility;

·Implement a Youth Work Agenda to increase recognition of non-formal learning;

·Reinforce the links between EU youth policy and related EU programmes (Erasmus+ and the European Solidarity Corps)

·Track EU spending on youth.

The EUYS was developed before 2019 against the backdrop of a broad range of challenges of young people. On their way to adulthood, young people typically experience several transitions in their personal life and environment, from education and training to work, living on their own, partnerships or starting a family life, and becoming active citizens. Many face uncertainties about their future, because of climate change, digitalisation, globalisation, demographic and socioeconomic trends, discrimination, social exclusion, populism and fake news, with potential effects on jobs, skills, health and well-being, or of the way our democracies work.

The policy context has changed dramatically since the launch in 2019 of the EU Youth Strategy 2019-2027, with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing inflation crisis. During the first years of the implementation, these unforeseen circumstances have amplified existing challenges faced by young people and children, including negatively affecting the mental health and general well-being of young people. The Flash Eurobarometer on mental health 7 , launched in October 2023 ahead of World Mental Health Day, showed that 59% of young people (15–24 year-olds) had an emotional or psychosocial problem (such as feeling depressed or feeling anxious) in the last 12 months. According to a UNICEF report from 2021, suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people (15-19 years of age) after road accidents, and in the EU, the annual value of lost mental health, in children and young people is estimated at EUR 50 billion. 8  In the public consultation for this evaluation, the most frequently mentioned challenges for young people today are the impact of the rise in cost-of-living (95% of respondents), mental well-being (91%) and financial stability (90%). 

Intervention Logic of the EU Youth Strategy 2019-2027

Given the EUYS’ complexity and diverse set of instruments, assessing its impact requires a structured approach. To unravel how different components of the EUYS contribute to the overarching goals, impact pathways were developed as part of the external support study, shedding light on how the instruments contribute to the specific objectives in the EUYS’ three core areas: 'Engage,' 'Connect,' and 'Empower'.

For the evaluation, the impact pathways were organised in a simplified manner according to four groups that were anticipated to result in direct or indirect outcomes and impacts.

1)Policy development and implementation: Evidence-based youth policymaking and knowledge building, mutual learning and dissemination, peer learning activities, Future National Activities Planners and EU Work Plans for Youth. These activities establish the policymaking environment for all other activities;

2)Activities in the ‘Engage’ core area: Participatory governance including through the EUYS stakeholder platform; the EU Youth Dialogue and EU Youth Coordinator. These activities allow youth and relevant youth stakeholders to engage in youth policy making at the EU and national levels;

3)Activities in the ‘Connect’ core area: Communicating the EU Youth Strategy; mobilising and monitoring EU programmes and funds; youth information and support services such as the European Youth Portal.  These activities allow youth and relevant stakeholders to strengthen their network and use the opportunities available to them;

4)Activities in the ‘Empower’ core area: youth information and support services such as through European-wide organisations; and activities for the quality, innovation and recognition of youth work based on the European Youth Work Agenda.

Figure 2. Intervention Logic of the EU Youth Strategy.

Source Kantar Public

2.2.Points of comparison

To assess the impact of the EUYS, it is crucial to consider the context before the intervention and the expectations for its development. Given that the previous Strategy was active between 2010 and 2018, it serves as a valuable reference period to evaluate the progress achieved by the current Strategy.

Baseline

Over the reference period (2010-2018), European economies were recovering from the 2008 economic crisis. However, there were significant challenges such as the high level of NEETs. This was an indication of the vulnerable status of young people in the EU. Although there has been a notable decline to 11.7% in 2022, worldwide phenomena such as the COVID-19 pandemic slightly increased the proportion of young people in this categorisation.

Between 2014 and 2018, youth unemployment rates decreased across all Member States but remained more than twice as high as general unemployment. In 2018, 3.415 million young persons (under 25) were unemployed in the EU28. This decrease continued into 2019 but increased slightly in 2020 and 2021 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic Despite economic improvements, inequalities persisted. For example, the percentage of persons at risk of poverty or social exclusion (aged 15-29) rose between 2015 and 2016 to a peak of 28.3%. Thereafter, there has been a steady decline in this rate, to a low of 24.3% in 2019. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, saw a 1 percentage point increase from 2019-2021, while recent data points to a return to 2019 levels in 2022.

Figure 3. Youth unemployment rate in the EU 27, under 25 years of age (2008-2023)

 Source: Eurostat (2023). YTH_EMPL_100 9

Before the EUYS was implemented in 2019, inequalities within EU society, especially those spanning different generations, persisted. These disparities came despite an economic upswing and diminished unemployment rates over the reference period. For example, the percentage of persons at risk of poverty or social exclusion (aged 15-29) rose between 2015 and 2016 to a peak of 28.3%. In addition to this, gender imbalances also persist, with young women being more prone to facing risks of poverty and social exclusion.

Figure 4. Participation in formal or informal voluntary activities or active citizenship (% of young people), 2015. (Source: Eurostat (ILC_SCP19__custom_2135736))

Participation in formal or informal voluntary activities or active citizenship across Europe was unevenly distributed over the reference period, and particularly in 2015: Eastern European countries (e.g., Romania, Bulgaria, and Latvia) had lower participation rates (between 0.3-9%) compared to central European countries (e.g., Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark) with higher participation rates (between 55-90%).  The results from the third International Civic and Citizenship Education Study 2022 (ICCS 2022) 10 show a decreasing trend (2022 compared to 2016) in civic and citizenship competence of students in several of the participating EU Member States 11 . The recent results of the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2022 12 show that student's personal circumstances such as socio-economic status and the advantages or disadvantages that come within have an impact on student performance (OECD, 2023). Individuals with higher socio-economic status often have better access to education and sources of information which can foster deeper understanding and knowledge of civic participation.

Points of comparison

EUYS aims to respond to the challenges of youth unemployment, participation in voluntary activities, and active citizenship by promoting youth engagement, addressing inequalities, and enhancing opportunities for young people across Member States. The following table presents the main points of comparison against each evaluation criterion. It presents the insights obtained from the evaluation of the previous Strategy, the related main aims of the current EUYS, and also serves as the basis for assessing the performance of the EUYS in addressing the identified challenges and achieving its objectives.

Point of comparison

(situation prior to 2019) 13

EUYS 2019-2027 14

Indicator (how progress is measured)

Effectiveness 

·EUYS 2010-2018 brought tangible changes at national and organizational levels, promoting common approaches across Member States.

·EUYS 2010-2018 directly influenced policy agendas, especially in volunteering, internationalisation, mobility, youth work, and cross-sectoral policy.

·EUYS 2010-2018 also impacted non-formal learning, youth entrepreneurship, and addressing NEETs.

·Greater awareness and understanding among key stakeholders, including policymakers and youth organisations, were highlighted as crucial. Better dissemination and communication are needed.

·Youth organisations in EUYS activities reported positive outcomes, including changes in practices, partnerships, and networking.

·Structured dialogue, EU fund mobilisation, mutual learning, and knowledge-building were identified as key tools for EU youth cooperation.

·Integrating and building upon existing efforts were identified as important for greater effectiveness.

·Aims to strengthen the link between the EU and young people through inclusive and digital dialogue, focused priorities, and effective information sharing.

·Emphasises youth engagement and participation in democratic life and seeks to improve cross-sector cooperation.

·The expected achievements include fostering youth participation, promoting solidarity and intercultural understanding, supporting youth empowerment, and enabling active citizenship.

·Emphasises equality, inclusion, participation, and global-local dimensions as guiding principles. Member States are encouraged to implement targeted actions, promote cross-sectoral cooperation, and explore synergies between funding sources.

·Aims to improve accessibility, visibility, and impact, with a systematic approach to youth information and the effective use of EU programmes and funds. In particular, the importance of youth mainstreaming is highlighted.

·The level of awareness and understanding of the EUYS among key stakeholders, policymakers, youth organisations, and young people.

·The level of youth participation and engagement in decision-making processes and the implementation of the EUYS.

·The extent to which the EUYS has influenced policy agendas, frameworks, and practices in Member States.

Efficiency 

·Resources allocated to EU cooperation activities in the youth field were generally small. Nonetheless, even with a relatively low budget, the EU youth cooperation was successful in triggering changes at national and organisational level.

·The budget was however spread across a large number of activities covering many fields of action, which meant that it was often being spread thinly.

·Some obstacles to efficiency were identified including limited resources at national level to take full advantage of EU cooperation structures; inefficiencies related to certain specific instruments or activities.

·The instruments and governance of the EUYS are primarily financed by EU programmes, in particular Erasmus+ and European Solidarity Corps, with other EU programmes contributing to its objectives.

·Member State national funding also contributes to their participation in the instruments and governance of the EUYS.

·The efficiency of resource allocation and utilisation within the EUYS.

·The degree to which structures in the EUYS enable efficient decision-making processes, effective communication, and streamlined implementation of the EUYS’ initiatives.

Coherence 

·EUYS 2010-2018 lacked an integrated approach at the EU level and cross-referencing with relevant initiatives was limited. Stakeholders expressed the need for greater involvement of the youth sector in decision-making processes.

·The implementation instruments were generally relevant, but the coherence in decision-making regarding their use was not clear externally.

·Emphasises the alignment of youth policy with EU funding and the focus on shared priorities across Member States while allowing flexibility for adaptation.

·Aims to reinforce the link between EU youth policy and related programmes such as Erasmus+ and the European Solidarity Corps.

·Maintains the coherence of its core areas and instruments, promoting effective and joined-up implementation across sectors.

·The degree to which there is integration of youth perspective into broader policy areas.

·The level of cross-referencing and integration between the EUYS and other relevant EU initiatives.

EU added value 

·The added value of the EUYS 2010-2018 was influenced by Member States' alignment and interest in cooperation. In countries with strong alignment or low interest, the added value was limited. National factors drove changes, and the EUYS contributed inspiration, expertise, leverage, and resources to support the EU Youth Open Method of Coordination objectives.

·It acted as a catalyst in some Member States, fostering a "youth policy" culture and leading to lasting effects like new frameworks and legislative revisions. Overall, the EUYS played a significant role in youth policy development.

·Sets out several areas for Member State cooperation, as well as the promotion of sharing information and best practices through the FNAPs.

·Aims to contribute to enhancing collaboration and knowledge exchange, expanding youth participation in policy consultations, and fostering the cross-fertilization of innovative ideas and practices.

·The extent to which young people across all Member States actively engage and participate in the EUYS’ initiatives.

·The extent to which the EUYS has acted as a catalyst or accelerator for change at the national level.

Relevance 

·EUYS 2010-2018 had a high degree of relevance in addressing the needs of young people and youth stakeholders.

·EUYS 2010-2018 objectives were seen to have been aligned with the priorities identified by young people, such as employment, education, training, and cross-border volunteering.

·The flexible framework of the EUYS allowed for addressing a wide range of issues and accommodating diverse needs across Member States.

·Sets out various needs and challenges faced by young people and youth stakeholders, including uncertainties about their future due to technological change, demographic trends, discrimination, social exclusion, fake news, and populism.

·Emphasises the importance of acquiring necessary skills to contribute to prosperous, democratic, and cohesive societies, as well as the need to address socio-economic and democratic exclusion.

·The extent to which the EUYS addresses the needs and challenges of young people and youth stakeholders today.

Table 1. Points of comparison.

Source: Kantar Public – Public Consultation on the EU Youth Strategy, 2023

3.How has the situation evolved over the evaluation period?

3.1.Current state of play

Implementation of the EU Youth Strategy during 2019-2023

The EU Youth Strategy operates in three-year work cycles, at the end of which the Commission reports on the progress in the EU Youth Report 15 . The priorities and actions in the core areas for each cycle are set by the Council together with the Commission and presented in the EU Work Plans for Youth. Each Work Plan spans two Council Presidency trios. The overarching thematic priority for 2019-2021 was ‘Creating opportunities for youth’ and for 2022-2024 it is ‘Engaging together for a sustainable and inclusive Europe’.