The Austrian President of the Council, Ursula Haubner, is hosting a high-level conference of European experts - l'Europe de l'enfance - in Vienna. "Children and young people are key to Europe's future. They therefore have a correspondingly high priority for our Council Presidency", Haubner stressed.
Today in Vienna, representatives from 22 European Member States are discussing strategies for making political decisions taken at EU level compatible with the needs of young people in order to afford them the necessary protection, while also guaranteeing rights. "After all, there are approximately 94 million young people under the age of 18 who are entitled to the best possible opportunities to enable them to grow into independent individuals having the right of self-determination who are capable of making decisions", she said.
Children's rights must become a reality, and the welfare of children must take precedence, for example, protection against violence or the right to express an opinion freely or have a say, or the right to regular personal relations and direct contact with both parents, as provided for in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.
The conference in Vienna is therefore not only examining the framing of legislation but is also discussing new models, including the Austrian model project concerned with child support in difficult care situations.
The European Commission has also signalled its practical support by drawing up a proposal for a co-ordinator of children's rights and a European forum for children. It is presenting this draft today for the first time.
All in all, the EU can point to progress given that in the past five years, approximately 30 directives or white papers have been adopted that directly target children and young people. They concern fundamental issues such as education, training and employment, preventing violence and poverty, parent responsibility, a safe and secure Internet, protection against sexual exploitation and social integration.
The Austrian Presidency and its successful track record in relation to young people
"Gigantic strides have already been made in the context of the European Youth Pact, as every young person in Europe is either to obtain employment or training within six months," Haubner said in reference to this striking success of the Austrian Presidency. In addition, the resolution on recognising non-formal learning, such as voluntary and social activites, will be approved.
Haubner concluded: "It is right and proper that politicians and experts place young people at the forefront of their considerations, but as far as I'm concerned, it is even more important to involve young people themselves more in the political decision-making processes. Young people should therefore be able to have their say in the run-up to the EU Youth Minister Councils, thereby strengthening mutual understanding and allowing young people to shape and carry EU policy along with them."