Today’s European young people are “the precarious generation” suffering from the crisis of the welfare state, “passively boomeranging back to their parents’ homes once they have run out of options and motivation,” write the European Policy Centre’s Joana Cruz and Judith Poultney ahead of the launch today (9 July) of a new EPC publication, ‘Young Voices Europe’.
In March 2009, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the European Parliament in Brussels and addressed an audience of nearly 500 ‘young Europeans’, telling them: “I have been listening to young people in all the corners of the world, from Japan, Palestine, and I must tell you that they all voiced the same concerns. I am curious to hear what your concerns, young Europeans, will be.”
So who are these ‘young Europeans’?
A plethora of terms has mushroomed to describe the current generation of young people in Europe: they have been called the ‘Generation Intern’ by the Germans; the ‘Boomerang Generation’ by the British; the ‘Génération Précaire’ by the French.
Today’s ‘baby losers’, as they are also known, are increasingly a minority in Europe. They are portrayed as well-educated but overqualified in some respects, which explains the seemingly never-ending unpaid intern phase many are forced to endure. They are the generation that passively boomerangs back to their parents’ homes once they have run out of options and motivation. They are also the precarious generation suffering from the crisis of the welfare state, who will experience the effects of ageing and demographic change to the fullest in the course of their own lives.
Has ‘name-tagging’ the sons and daughters of the baby boomers’ generation really bonded them? Do they take any interest in this? Are they having a say? If so, who is or should be hearing them?
2009 is a year of transition in the European Union. The European elections in June and the appointment of the new European Commission later this year will bring new faces onto the European stage and provide an excellent opportunity to make the voice of the younger generation heard. With this in mind, Ideas Factory Europe, an initiative run by younger members of the European Policy Centre team, decided to explore more carefully what these ‘young Europeans’ had to say.
With focus on the next five years, the project ‘Europe in 2014’ was born. In launching this project, we were aware that we could only ever canvass the views of the minority of the minority – young, university-educated and upwardly mobile Europeans, who are well integrated within the European policy bubble. However, we think that young Europeans, whether in Brussels, Lisbon, London or Budapest share similar concerns. What distinguishes our group is that they were asked to share them.
During our debates, our thinkers acknowledged the stark reality of the world we are living in: the reality of the economic crisis, the threat from climate change and the complexities of international politics. However, they did not stop there. They showed a willingness to take on the challenges of the future with fresh ideas and initiative.
On the economic crisis, participants challenged the entire EU approach to the economy, urging the EU to adopt a time-based economy, where people were compensated for use of their time. When discussing climate change, they recognised the immediacy of the problem and proposed ways in which the economic crisis could be used to push the climate change agenda. When looking at the EU’s role in the world, they thought of innovative ways of fostering peace in the Middle East, through the building of a “Peace Train” from Beirut to Jerusalem.
‘Young voices in Europe’ is one small demonstration that the younger generation does care about politics. Our thinkers embodied the cultural and demographic shift that we are currently experiencing whilst accepting (although with some resistance) that they will have to carry the weight of some inconvenient truths and implications of the lifestyle of their parents’ generation. However, the key message that emerged from all of our discussions was a plea from the younger generation for strong leadership over the next five years and beyond.
Leaders should not only be listening to the young voices in Europe, but also hearing them – they are the generation of ideas.
Joana Cruz is a junior programme executive and Judith Poultney a programme assistant at the European Policy Centre. The articles and thoughts discussed during the project can be found in the publication ‘Young Voices Europe’, launched on 9 July 2009 at Autoworld. For further information on the Europe in 2014 project and Ideas Factory Europe, go to www.ideasfactoryeurope.eu