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Study on the landscape of youth representation in the EU

Published 18 May 2020

This study carried out by Ecorys UK, aimed to provide new evidence on the landscape of youth representation at the European level in the context of the implementation of the European Union Youth Strategy, with particular regard to the ‘Engage’ priority concerning youth participation in democratic life.

Key findings

The study found an EU youth sector in transition, with an overall shift away from traditional youth representative structures towards a more diverse and networked civil society. These changes had created both opportunities and gaps. While NGOs operating at local and national levels did not always feel well represented in EU level decision making, there was a strong will to collaborate, and the study underlined a continuing central role for EU ENGOs in supporting the ‘new’ (e.g. digital) spaces for participation.

The research indicated that youth NGOs and networks have grown in their numbers and membership, despite concerns about a shrinking space for civil society. Possible factors include: an expanding EU youth population; increased mobility and access to EU exchange programmes, and rising EU expenditure on youth. However, the study found that this growth has been uneven, with unequal access to youth opportunities across Europe, and among young people according to their status and circumstances. 

While EU grant funding has been fundamental to youth NGOs at a time of shrinking public expenditure, smaller grassroots NGOs and youth movements have often found it difficult to access these funds. The study concluded that more flexible and sustained funding streams are needed, while also exploring more creative ways to support partnerships between NGOs and youth movements at EU, national and local levels.


For the European Commission 

  1. To review and streamline the funding envelopes and criteria for EU grant funding, widening access to grassroots NGOs and youth movements. 
  2. To ring-fence additional EU grant funding for disadvantaged youth, and for the grassroots level NGOs that are best placed to reach and engage with them.
  3. To identify and support mechanisms for engaging young people more directly in decisions regarding the utilisation of EU grant funding. 
  4. To optimise the role of existing EU youth programmes and infrastructure, to support the evolving needs of a networked youth sector.  
  5. To complement existing programmes with new platforms and spaces to support horizontal collaboration between youth NGOs across Europe. 
  6. To develop user-friendly and standardised tools to support youth NGOs with monitoring and evaluation, making use of digital and social media data. 

For national and local stakeholders in the EU

  1. To raise awareness of the opportunities for young people to engage in democratic life, and to make this information accessible via youth information services, communications campaigns, and school-based programmes
  2. To make the case for a greater share of co-funding for EU grant programmes from national and municipal authorities, to maximise the impact of the funds and to ensure that they are targeted at priorities within each Member State