Political will, not only cash, needed to fight youth unemployment: experts

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This article is part of our special report Efficient EU budget 2014-2020.

SPECIAL REPORT / With youth unemployment at 23%, twice the level of the older population, the EU has earmarked €6 billion to put young people back to work, but more political will is needed to make sure that the national programmes are ambitious and deliver tangible results, experts said.

7.5 million young Europeans are currently without a job. With the rate soaring especially in the crisis-hit countries of Eastern and Southern Europe, establishing specific programmes designed to put a generation into work will cost member states €21 billion a year, estimates the International Labour Organization (ILO).

But this is an insignificant amount compared to the €150 billion price states would have to pay if they do not act, the Commission has said.

During a high level conference on youth unemployment held in Paris on Tuesday (12 November), heads of state and government reiterated their commitment to properly implement the Youth Guarantee and help millions of young people between the ages of 15 and 24 to successfully enter the labour market.

The Youth Guarantee scheme, based mainly on best practices from Finland and Austria, will push forward deep structural reforms in the hardest hit countries, reforming the public employment services, helping young people to stay in education or start up their own businesses or giving support to the most vulnerable groups, such as migrants.

6 billion from the EU budget

However, the Youth Guarantee will mainly depend on member states’ political will, as employment and social affairs is in the remit of national powers.

For the next multi-annual financial framework (2014-2020), the Union will contribute to solving the European youth unemployment crisis by putting €6 billion into the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI).

€3 billion will come from a specific EU budget line and another €3 billion will be provided by the European Social Fund (ESF), on top of the expected €10 billion to be spent yearly during the the next financial period.

The money is dedicated specifically to regions where youth unemployment reaches 25% or more and will target young people that are not in employment, education or training, the so-called NEETs.

>> A list of the eligible regions is available here.

But youth experts have criticised the amount allocated by the EU.

Giuseppe Procaro, the secretary general of the European Youth Forum (EYF), said that the money allocated was simply not enough to get young people into work, as compared to the €20 billion needed for the next budget period, 2014-2020.

Moreover, the Commission’s ‘one size fits all approach’, the Youth Employment Initiative, was inefficient, Procaro said.

“A case by case analysis is needed. We need to look into the specific needs of each region with targeted measures, look at the best practices in other member states, such as Finland, and involve the young people in defining those measures.”

From roads to youth

But German Green MEP Elisabeth Schroedter, vice-chair of the employment committee in the European Parliament, did not share this view. Schroedter said there was plenty of money available to fight youth unemployment in EU structural funds, but that it was up to the member states to show political will and make use of it.

“The money made available by the Youth Employment Initiative is additional money,” Schroedter told EURACTIV.

“The structural funds are the most successful fund of the EU and the best instrument, but it’s a big political question whether member states will earmark them for youth unemployment, instead of, let’s say, building new roads. In the end it’s up to them to decide how they’ll use those structural funds."

Front-loading concerns

To make more money available faster under the Youth Employment Initiative, EU leaders have agreed to front-load the €6 billion, making it available in the first two years of the new budget, 2014-2016.

While the move has been generally praised, the European Youth Forum warned that it could be a double-edged sword, leaving countries penniless after 2016.

The EYF said in a written statement: “This front loading is a good signal to start pushing the initiative forward and with needed resources. However, its concentration on two years could create uncertainty about the sustainability and efficiency of this instrument.

"We expect the Council to set up, as soon as possible, a clear mechanism of monitoring and evaluation of such spending and the guarantee for possible further allocation to the Youth employment initiative after 2015.”

A question of political will

Back in June, when EU leaders agreed on the youth funds, Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen, whose country is seen as a role model for the youth guarantee, warned that “the main responsibility lies in the hands of governments, and the tools must be used or taken at the national level. European solutions can partially help, but it is not the main story".

The Commission has praised Helsinki and Vienna have been praised for their approach to youth unemployment issues by the European Commission. 

In a written statement, the EU executive said: “In Finland, a review of a youth guarantee-type scheme that operated there showed acceleration in the drawing up of personalised plans for young people as well as a reduction in unemployment since the scheme's introduction. Austria also has youth guarantee type measures and at the same time one of the lowest youth unemployment rates in Europe."

Speaking at a High Level Conference on Youth employment in Paris on 12 November, Jose Manuel Barroso, said that “the best way for Member States to help young people to get a job and to reduce the unacceptable levels of youth unemployment", stated President Barroso. "Now we have to continue to work together to make it a reality. We realise that it is a tough challenge to Member States to implement the structural reforms necessary to implement the Youth Guarantee", added Commissioner Andor. "But without such a targeted investment in our human capital we risk a lost generation"

Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council stated that "unemployment levels are alarmingly high, concealing many different realities and causes that often run deep. And we are under no illusions: the problem won't be solved overnight. But that is no reason for adopting a "mission impossible" mindset. A common resolve and immediate actions can make a difference. That's why, tonight, we took a number of decisions that can and will create jobs".

The president of the Employment and Social Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, Pervenche Bérès, said “we can’t accept that a young person should be without a job or who can leave the training and education system without being proposed a new training, some form of schooling, apprenticeship, a job within four months’ time. We’re talking here about establishing all the opportunities to ensure that this is not a lost generation”.

European United Left/Nordic Green Left MEP Thomas Händel said that “€6 billion is very little given the number of young people in Europe. It will be difficult to find complementary funding for this programme”

Peter Matjaši?, president of the European Youth Forum, said that “European leaders had a good opportunity to change the trend and to counter youth unemployment. Despite young people and youth organisations’ demands for having an overall strategy, the European Council doesn’t go beyond the measures already announced of a financially and geographical limited Youth Guarantee, and support to youth mobility. We expected more from them, and we will continue fighting for having more”. 

The Youth Employment Initiative was proposed by the 7-8 February 2013 European Council with a budget of €6 billion for the period 2014-20.

The Youth Employment Initiative would particularly support young people not in education, employment or training in the Union's regions with a youth unemployment rate in 2012 at above 25% by integrating them into the labour market.

The money under the Youth Employment Initiative would therefore be used to reinforce and accelerate measures outlined in the December 2012 Youth Employment Package.

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