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The participation of young people in decision making is defined as one of four strategic objectives in the Youth Field Development Plan 2014-2020 (Noortevaldkonna arengukava 2014-2020). Same is in the draft document of the new development plan for the years 2021-2035.
There are regulations on youth involvement. The involvement of young people in general and of youth councils is defined in the Youth Work Act. The involvement of pupils and students is defined in education institutions acts, and the participation of the children in the Child Protection Act.
Forms and levels of consultations
There are plenty of mechanisms for the involvement of young people in public policy processes. In general, youth participation in public policy takes place within the general framework and practice of participatory governance in Estonia. In the consultation processes, the young people are addressed as a group of stakeholders, which means that generally young people are invited to the consultation as one of the consulted parties.
The collective consultation remains an important principle underlying the interaction between the young people and the state or municipality. This means that youth consultation and involvement occurs predominantly between a youth council, organization or association on the one hand and a state, municipal, third sector or business organization on the other hand. The consultation of unorganized young people is organized through opinion markets and other forms of participation.
At the municipal level, local youth councils are consulted on topics that are relevant for youth. In 2019, the municipal youth councils were active in 42 local governments. In addition, 15 county youth councils were active, one in each county of Estonia. Most of them are now demolished as the county level municipalities were also demolished. Most often the consultation is arranged with:
- local and regional youth councils – consulted at the local or regional level
- youth organizations – consulted at local and/or national level
- student and pupils councils – consulted partner at local and national level
- participation café – a form of consultation at the local level
- umbrella organizations of youth councils and youth organizations – consulted at the national level.
The youth consultation in the public policy processes occurs mainly in 3 contexts:
- drafting sectorial strategies and development plans;
- implementing sectoral strategies and development plans;
- design of the youth work services.
The main method of involving young people in drafting strategies is the participation of the representatives of youth organizations or umbrella organizations in different working groups. In these settings, the young people are informed of the developments and they can express their opinion on particular themes and partake in discussions leading to final formulations. Technically speaking, this involves the formulation of positions regarding concrete questions, participation in meetings, involvement in communication, reacting to other participants' opinions and proposals, input to official document drafts and other activities to be carried out during the process.
Regularity of consultations
The consultations take place regularly at national-level policy. As the responsible ministries for policy areas are obliged to report annually on the implementation of the policy measures, the youth representatives are also mostly consulted annually on these policy document implementation reports.
Consultations take also place case-by-case depending on the emergence of new legislation or policy proposals.
In general, the main umbrella organizations are involved in drafting policy programs and legislative acts as representatives of young people in Estonia:
- National Youth Council (the umbrella organization of youth associations and youth organizations);
- Estonian School Student Councils Union (the umbrella organization of school student councils);
- Federation of Estonian Student Unions (the umbrella organization of college student councils).
In the implementation phase, local youth organizations, youth councils, and youth work organizations are involved in carrying out activities of a concrete policy program.
There are no specific target groups in general consultation mechanisms defined.
Main public authorities
- the Ministry of Education and Research: responsible for youth policy and education policy
- the Ministry of Social Affairs: responsible for labor market policy, but also for social protection and services including child and family policy
- Education and Youth Board, a governmental institution responsible for implementation of education and youth policy.
- Estonian Association of Youth Centres, implementing youth work in youth centers;
- Youth Agency of the Foundation Archimedes, an independent body established by the government under the Ministry of Education and Research, responsible for implementing youth policy, National Agency for Erasmus+ (note: starting from 01.01.2021 is also a part of the Education and Youth Board amongst other youth and education organizations).
There are some specific mechanisms of data collection and monitoring of youth consultation, e.g. Structural Dialogue, Ombudsman for Children reviews the youth rights, youth monitor, etc. However, there is no specific data collection system on the level of youth participation.
Participation of young people in decision-making has two main outcomes:
- quality of the decision;
- development of active citizenship.
Generally, based on the consultation, a draft law or policy document is revised. There is an obligation for the government authorities to provide information on every proposal whether it has been accepted and also the reasons, if not. Policy documents progress report is generally required from the ministry appointed as a responsible body for the policy document. Usually, it is necessary to report to the Government every year the implemented activities, achieved outcomes and results. The yearly reports are bases for the Government to renew or to terminate the implementation of the policy document. The inclusion of interested parties to the reporting procedure is advised.
The most important government initiative to promote youth participation has been the introduction of the annual funding scheme for youth councils and youth organizations.
Estonian National Youth Council initiated a project “Osaluskohvikud” (Eng. youth participation cafes) to provide platform for local politicians, civil servants, professionals working with young people, parents, etc. to meet and discuss different relevant issues with local young people from schools, youth organizations, non-organized youth interested to take part at the event, etc. The cafes have been taking place in November every year in different communities all over the country and have involved more than 1,500 participants yearly.