Article: Transferring European youth policy into local youth policy

First Published: 15th February 2019 | Author: Frederike Hofmann-van de Poll, Stephanie Riedle & Patricia Friedrich | Tags: , , , ,

This article examines how the EU Youth Strategy has been implemented in Germany, investigating how the German federal government and Länder attempted to transfer European impetus into youth policy.

The emergence of European youth policy (Siurala, 2007; Williamson, 2007) and the establishment of a Youth Strategy of the European Union (in short: EU Youth Strategy, EUYS), have led to a range of activities both at the level of the European Union and at that of its member states (European Commission 2016). Whereas the European level makes the policy decisions, the national level is responsible for their implementation. In many member states, regional and local youth work is relatively autonomous in its implementation of national or European youth policy. A pressing question is therefore how European policy can be transferred to regional and local levels and thus how abstract European youth policy can be translated into specific action. Against the background of eight years of experience with implementing EU Youth Strategy in Germany, this article reviews the policies developed by the German federal and Länder governments for transferring the ideas contained in the EU Youth Strategy into regional and local youth policy.

Due to Germany’s federal structure, youth policy is part of a complex system in which different actors (governmental and non-governmental) and levels (federal, Länder, municipal, local) have different responsibilities. Given that responsibilities are distributed across all levels, the implementation of EUYS in Germany between 2010 and 2018 had to involve all of them. Any decisions about implementation taken at one level had to be supported by the other levels. Thus, the European impetus, federal decisions and implementation had to be transferred from one level to the next. To ensure that this actually occurred, the federal government and the Länder established a complex system of multi-level governance. In this system, the federal and Länder levels worked together with representatives of local authorities and non-statutory providers of child and youth services. By means of cooperation between actors and coordination of their actions, supported by the impetus from the European level, implementation aimed at developing a shared idea for the future of German youth policy and the role of European youth policy within it (Hofmann-van de Poll, 2017, p. 131; Baumbast, Hofmann-van de Poll and Rink, 2015, p. 206). The German Youth Institute accompanied and evaluated the implementation process.


The analysis is based on the interpretation of data derived from the transcripts of interviews conducted with members of the official federal and Länder bodies set up to implement EUYS in Germany, and from the minutes and observation reports of their meetings. The members of the official EUYS implementation bodies were interviewed twice so that the developments within the bodies could be analysed over time. This resulted in 56 interviews in 2012/2013 and 44 interviews in 2014/2015 (cf. Hofmann-van de Poll, 2017, pp. 131-133). After the analysis of these interviews, 12 interviews with Länder organisations and sub-regional organisations that were not members of the official German EUYS bodies were conducted in 2015/2016. The goal of these follow-up interviews was to gain a greater insight into the implementation paths that were identified after analysing the two previous rounds of interviews.

In order to analyse the implementation pathways along which EUYS was transferred to Germany, it was first necessary to identify how the actors involved in the process interpret EUYS. Therefore, transcripts and minutes were analysed to identify the terms most frequently used in connection with EUYS. This resulted in a list of keywords employed by stakeholders that were related to or synonymous with the term ‘EUYS’. These keywords were used to conduct online research aimed at documenting publicly accessible information on measures undertaken by each of the German Länder to implement EUYS. The results of the online research were generalised, systematised and grouped into approximate categories describing implementation pathways, thus creating an initial classification.

In a second step, the transcripts and minutes were analysed to elicit additional implementation paths. The results of this analysis were incorporated into the existing classification derived from the online research, and the categories were expanded and refined. This extended classification was discussed with stakeholders to ensure that all the paths along which transfer had taken place were listed.

To validate the classification, the results of the analysis were presented at national[1] and international[2] conferences, where they were discussed with youth welfare professionals, youth policy makers and youth researchers from Germany and across Europe.

Obstacles to implementation

The establishment of structures to implement EUYS in Germany in 2010 met with both an enthusiastic and a critical reception. Enthusiasm was expressed about the partnership between the various stakeholders, while over the years three arguments why such an implementation would be difficult have been repeated (Hofmann-van de Poll and Friedrich, 2018; Riedle and Hofmann-van de Poll, 2018; Baumbast, Hofmann-van de Poll and Rink, 2015).

The first critical argument is that the fields of action in EUYS are cross-sectoral and therefore do not fit with the German sectoral approach to youth policy. Contrary to a cross-sectoral approach, youth policy in Germany focusses on youth work, rather than incorporating other sectors like employment, health or education. To counter the argument of the cross-sectoral approach of EUYS, Germany focussed on the role of its youth sector right from the beginning, choosing three fields of action: participation, non-formal learning and transition stages.

The second argument is that the announcement of the implementation of EUYS in Germany was not accompanied by the necessary – federal and Länder – funding for conducting projects. Over the years, this argument has been refuted by two different lines of reasoning. On the one hand, EUYS is about transferring ideas and creating possibilities for action, rather than about funding a concrete programme. On the other hand, once the implementation of EUYS had started, both the federal government and individual Länder initiated and funded projects.

Thirdly, it was argued that there is little awareness at local and regional level for what is going on in European youth policy. European youth policy is regarded as something “on top” of daily work. Moreover, other fields have priority, such as day-care and integration of migrants (Hofmann-van de Poll and Friedrich, 2018. At the European level, the European Commission came to a similar conclusion (European Commission, 2016, p. 101). Both aspects of this argument have been countered by the slogan “more Europe in the child and youth services system”, which has been accompanying German implementation since the beginning. Using this slogan, EUYS actors point out that “Europe” is not some abstract thing, but a reality that is part of the everyday world of many young people.

The implementation of European youth policy is thus a policy field in which, on the one hand, European impulses for national, regional and local youth policy have increased, and on the other hand, there is the feeling that European youth policy is a playground for some and a burden for others. Under these circumstances, a systematic approach is needed to spread European ideas below the sub-national level. Otherwise, the implementation of EUYS will remain a process in which federal and Länder actors discuss issues without any active involvement from sub-regional and local actors.

Paths to implementation

The classification described below is based on the paths to implementation that were adopted within the scope of Länder measures for the topic of participation. Performing the same analysis for other fields of action (in Germany, non-formal learning and transition stages) or for activities undertaken by other stakeholders (local level, child and youth welfare services) may well reveal other paths to implementation. The evaluation resulted in the identification of six different paths along which EUYS has been implemented in Germany: electronic documents, events, projects, coaching, political impetus and structures.

An initial path to implementing EUYS is the publication and distribution of electronic documents. These may be documents or individual website pages that have to be searched for or subscribed to by the users themselves (e.g. by using search engines or following links from known websites). Some websites have been specifically set up to provide information on the implementation of EUYS, while others integrate information on EUYS and its implementation into their existing pages. The content primarily comprises information on the topic of participation, other topics of relevance to Germany, and general information on EUYS (e.g. EU funding opportunities). Distributing information in the form of electronic documents serves to inform all stakeholders in the field of child and youth welfare as well as young people themselves, and involves them in a transfer of information related to the implementation process. At the conferences, it was suggested to broaden this path to public communication, in the sense that there is a public transfer of information. As such, it would include documents in general, given that much information can be expected to exist in printed form. Furthermore, broadening this path into communication would also expand it to include social media. Many stakeholders regard social media as an important channel for distributing information.

The second path to implementation is through events. These are primarily one- or two-day events, mainly targeted at professionals. However, they may also be designed for young people, or both. These events focus on one particular topic relating to the implementation of EUYS (e.g. funding; topics within EUYS; EUYS instruments). They are used as discussion platforms for the topics, but also serve to involve stakeholders in the implementation process, distribute information on the implementation of EUYS, and foster networking among stakeholders.

Projects are the third path to implementing EUYS. Projects are always fixed-term and consist of dialogue projects and participation projects. Dialogue projects focus on the exchange between young people and policy makers. Their aim is to build and foster mutual understanding. Participation projects are designed to involve young people in various issues. The level of their involvement varies from opinion surveys to direct roles in planning and carrying out a project. Some projects use online tools to survey opinions, e.g. in the run-up to elections.

Coaching, directed at professionals in child and youth welfare, aims to create a more international basis for the work of these professionals, and may take a variety of forms such as courses of study or continuing training. Thus, professionals working within child and youth welfare structures receive guidance and advice, for example to encourage and support their efforts to involve and integrate so-called ‘marginalised groups’ in international projects or establish cross-border mobility activities for this target group.

In addition to these four paths to implementation focussing on professionals and young people as their target groups, the evaluation identified two further paths of a more pronounced political nature. These two paths aim at steering and coordinating the implementation process and anchoring it more firmly at the national and sub-national level. One such path is providing political impetus. This occurs when policy makers in the individual Länder establish focal topics (e.g. participation) for child and youth welfare measures, for example in specifically organised campaigns. Political impetus thus takes the form of a concentration of activities and may involve one or more of the four paths to implementation described above. All activities within the scope of providing impetus are designed to encourage further stakeholders to engage in similar measures.

The establishment of structures aims to anchor the topic more firmly as well as to steer and coordinate the implementation process. The structures established can be classified into working groups and structurally-anchored agencies. Working groups, such as round tables, are set up as required, or held at regular intervals. They serve the stakeholders involved as platforms for promoting the exchange of views and experiences, building networks, and providing mutual inspiration and encouragement to take part in or organise further implementation activities. In contrast to these working groups, structurally-anchored agencies have their own staff and their own budget. As points of contact for professionals, and in some cases for young people, their objectives include informing, advising and supporting these professionals (and young people), facilitating networking and offering further qualifications for their work. These agencies were often started as initiatives by political representatives of the Land, and in some cases maintain extremely close contact to policy makers via the working groups.

Each of these paths to implementation helps to diffuse the European impetus through the different state levels. The analysis of the 2015/2016 follow-up interviews showed that the more paths to implementation that are used in any one Land, the better and more generally known EUYS is. In addition, the sustainability of the impetus when it was received and passed on by sub-regional actors was higher when more than one path to implementation was used. Moreover, the implementation of EUYS is more sustainable when structures are used to transfer the European impetus. As structures also use other paths to implementation, a mixture of implementation and transfer mechanisms is created. When a structure uses different action programmes and projects as well as different information channels, the transfer potential of each single path increases. When implementation is tackled in a more structural way, more activities are carried out and the better known EUYS is.


On 26th November 2018, the Youth Ministers of the European Union adopted a new EU Youth Strategy that prioritises the transfer of European policy to regional and local levels (Council of the European Union, 2018). However, so far there have been no systematic means of transferring European youth policy to member states. This article has revealed an array of ways for stakeholders to take concrete action in implementing and providing impetus for this strategy. The paths to implementation in Germany show how, with relatively little coordinated financial support, the highly diverse impetus provided by European youth policy collaboration can be communicated.

However, to ensure success in shaping the paths to implementation – and thus in implementing the political strategy itself – it is vital for the stakeholders involved to be aware of the necessity of implementation and to take ownership of the process themselves. To achieve this, they must embrace their own responsibility for implementing the process in order to contribute to its success. In this sense, the paths to transfer identified here are only just the beginning.

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Last Updated: 29 March 2019


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Dr Frederike Hofmann-van de Poll is a senior researcher at the German Youth Institute with interests in Governance, European youth policy, policy transfer, youth participation and Youth Work.

Stephanie Riedle is a senior researcher at the German Youth Institute with interests in European youth policy, non-formal learning, youth participation, governance and evaluation.

Patricia Friedrich is a former senior researcher at the German Youth Institute with interests in European Youth Policy, Participation and Transitions.

All authors have been involved in the evaluation the implementation of the EU Youth Strategy in Germany 2010 to 2018.