Annika Saarikko, Minister of Science and Culture:
Opening of the EU Youth Conference Creating opportunities for youth

Ministry of Education and Culture 1.7.2019 16.43
Minister Saarikko opening the youth conference for the Finnish EU presidency. Photo: Anna Enbuske / Allianssi ry

EU Youth Conference: Creating opportunities for youth – How does youth work meet the expectations and needs of young people, July 2019, 15.00, Grand Marina Conference Centre

Honourable guests,

Dear Participants


On behalf of Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union, it is my great pleasure to welcome you all to the EU Youth Conference in Helsinki. This is the first event of Finland’s Presidency in the field of youth, and, in fact, the very first event of Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the EU, which started today.

Government Programme

The parliamentary elections in Finland were held in April, and the new government programme was submitted to Parliament some weeks ago. Our government programme emphasises actions with and for young people, and I’d like to mention just a few examples:

We will take the EU Youth Strategy into account in EU decision-making, and the EU action for youth will be advanced in cooperation with the Council of Europe.

We will promote the youth guarantee.

The Government will actively promote opportunities for participation and seek ways to make engagement in politics and political debate lighter and easier, for instance by setting up pop-up events.

The Government will adopt a national programme for youth work and youth policy. Our main themes for the national programme are to prevent social exclusion and improve inclusion among young people. We also plan to upgrade the coordination of youth policy, to set up a ministerial working group for child and youth policy and to enhance cooperation between all those involved in youth policy.

The Government Programme also contains numerous other measures designed for young people, which makes me, as the minister responsible for youth issues, very happy indeed.

Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the EU

Finland has taken over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union at a crucial moment. We have complex horizontal issues ahead, notably the next multiannual financial framework, rule of law and Brexit. The European leaders have just agreed on an ambitious agenda for the years 2019–2024 to take the EU forward and address the Union’s internal and external challenges. The unity of the European Union is more important than ever. The cornerstones of European integration – peace, security, stability, democracy and prosperity – need to be protected. It is only by acting together and defending our common values that the EU can tackle the major challenges of our time while also promoting the wellbeing and prosperity of its citizens. An open society and an active civil society are essential in building democracy. Young people are a key resource for creating a socially fair and equal Europe.

Finland’s Presidency priorities in the field of youth

A key youth policy objective of the Finnish Presidency of the Council of the European Union is to promote the negotiations on the multiannual programmes, Erasmus+ and the European Solidarity Corps.

The Erasmus+ programme is a success story throughout the European Union. In Finland, the mid-term evaluation of the Erasmus+ programme clearly showed that it is an important instrument in helping make youth work more international and improving the quality of youth work.

In my opinion, the European Solidarity Corps can evolve into a great tool for reaching out to even more young people, providing them with valuable experiences of solidarity activities in Europe and beyond. European values need to be promoted and we need to help all young people engage, including those with fewer opportunities and those living in remote areas. This can be achieved by means of easily accessible and high-quality solidarity activities.

With Finland holding the Presidency, we are committed to starting trilogue negotiations  with the European Parliament.

Our other priorities are linked to the quality of youth work, in particular to the education and training of youth workers, and to increasing the holistic understanding of and strategic approach to the use of digital media and technology in youth work.

Why did we choose these topics?

In youth policy, as is politics in general, I believe we should put more effort into making sure we can give our children and young people prospects of hope. Public discussion often tends to revolve around threats, fears and difficulties. I consider it very important that all of us, not only politicians and researchers but also professionals working with young people, work hard to make sure every single youngster has the courage to dream. Adolescence is a special and magical phase in life. So it is our job to make sure young people can enjoy this brief stage in life that ultimately shapes the rest of their lives.

Youth work can occupy a very significant position in the lives of young people. It can help young people mature, become more independent, feel they belong to the community, and acquire the skills and knowledge needed in society and in everyday life. We need to help identify and recognise these skills and the knowledge acquired through youth work. This is an important issue for young people.

Youth workers – both volunteers and paid employees – come from different backgrounds and have different requirements in terms of education and training across Europe. If we wish to improve the quality of youth work and meet the needs and expectations of young people, we must invest in developing the education and training of youth workers in Europe.

Globalisation, ageing populations, competitiveness, employment and relationships between generations – to mention just a few factors – pose challenges that the youth sector must be able to meet. In my view, quality youth work and qualified youth workers can play a key role in this respect.

Trio Presidency topic

Together with our Trio Presidency partners Romania and Croatia, we have established a common title called ‘Creating Opportunities for Young People’. It is extremely important that young people experience mutual equality. Amid all these changes, we must offer young people opportunities, protection and hope for a better future.

EU Youth Dialogue

The EU Youth Dialogue is an important element in the implementation of the EU Youth Strategy. Its purpose is to promote the participation and inclusion of all young people, and in particular, to increase young people’s participation in decision-making processes – including young people with fewer opportunities and those who are not active in youth organisations.

Let us use the Youth Conference as a useful tool for listening to young people when developing the quality of youth work, youth work services and the skills and knowledge required by youth workers.

 Future of the Dialogue

In my opinion, we are now at the stage where we have clear structures for implementing the EU Youth Dialogue efficiently. It is time to concentrate on discussing the content and issues that are actually important to all young people, including those who for one reason or another are unable to participate in these conferences.

In this Conference, we want to concentrate on five important subjects, which are also related to youth work: sustainability, multicultural matters, digitalisation, the future of young work and employability, and access to services and accessibility. I hope that these themes inspire you!

Dear participants,

Thank you for being here on these three summer days to work on this important matter. Please get to know each other and exchange your views. Let’s show that diversity is a strength for Europe.

In conclusion, I would like to wish you all every success for this meeting.

Thank you!

Annika Saarikko