Jobs in Europe have returned – just not for youth

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The ILO estimates that €45.4 billion is required each year to adequately tackle youth unemployment in Europe by implementing the Youth Guarantee. [Shutterstock]

Every year, the ‘Euro bubble’ is alive and buzzing in anticipation of one of the biggest events in the European political calendar; the President of the European Commission’s annual State of the European Union address, writes Zuzana Vaneckova.

Zuzana Vaneckova is a board member of the European Youth Forum.

This anticipation and build-up, unfortunately, doesn’t stretch too far beyond Brussels and most likely by-passes the majority of Europeans. Yet, one month on from President Juncker’s big speech, there are important messages that must not be lost. The jobs, well-being and prospects of a lot of young people depend on it.

The issue of unemployment has been high on the priority list for the European Union for many years. It has been one the most severe consequences of the financial crisis, and it continues to leave its legacy, most of all on a whole ‘lost generation’ of young people. A lot has been done already to remedy the situation – with broadly positive results.

As President Juncker stated in his September speech, “jobs have returned”. The most recent assessment by Eurostat shows the lowest unemployment rate recorded in the 28 EU member states since April 2008. Great news, but for youth, this is not the whole story.

As highlighted both by Juncker and by the group leaders responding to him, youth unemployment is still far too high. In fact, at 14.8%, it is double the average rate. Furthermore, while these figures carry great significance, we mustn’t forget to look beyond the numbers.

Simply ticking the box of being ‘employed’ doesn’t tell us about the quality of jobs, or lack of jobs, being offered to young people. The changing nature of work and the types of contracts and working conditions available, unfortunately, means that falling unemployment doesn’t necessarily mean an increase in wellbeing.

So, while no one can doubt that progress has been made, there is no question that more progress is required. Where do we need to improve?

With the EU’s 2021-27 budget (the Multiannual Financial Framework) currently under discussion, the potential for the EU to truly invest in young people is great.

In the current Commission proposal for the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+), according to the European Youth Forum’s calculations, only an estimated €4.3 billion over seven years is guaranteed to be spent on youth unemployment.

To zoom out, the total budget of the EU for this period is €1.279 trillion. To put this into perspective, direct funding to tackle youth unemployment would amount to only 0.34% of the total budget. This is, quite clearly, not enough.

The ILO estimates that €45.4 billion is required each year to adequately tackle youth unemployment in Europe by implementing the Youth Guarantee. In addition, we at the European Youth Forum estimate that for the post-2020 MFF, at least €23 billion of EU funding would be required over the seven-year period, together with investment from member states.

The projected figure of €4.3 billion euro as proposed by the European Commission is not only lacking but definitely doesn’t match up to the frequent mentions of the issue by policy-makers from across the EU at all levels.

This figure must be increased to reach out to young people, particularly those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, who are just joining the labour market but who are struggling to find a job. By investing in these young people specifically, we can prevent a more systemic problem – long-term unemployment.

As research from Eurofound highlighted, long-term unemployment particularly has a detrimental impact on a person’s future employment, even more so when it happens at a young age. This can have life-long repercussions on that person’s future employment prospects.

If the member states are serious about matching funding to the political promises to tackle these issues, two things must be done. First of all, the amount of 10% earmarked for youth employment in the post-2020 ESF+ must be increased.

For member states with above-average rates of young people not in employment, education or training (NEET) in 2019, this percentage is not enough money to address this issue. It is imperative that this amount is increased, and be based on regional calculations rather than national.

In a number of member states, the overall percentage of NEETs might be low, but in specific regions, the percentage may be much higher. In our opinion, this should be tackled by ensuring that all member states with regions with a NEET rate above 10% in 2019 earmark at least 15% of their ESF+ resources for youth employment and the implementation of the Youth Guarantee.

Secondly, member states must commit to complementing EU funding with national investment. EU funding alone will not solve this issue. Direct investment from national governments is also required.

The European Commission President may have hit the nail on the head in his speech, identifying youth unemployment as a challenge that still remains. However, it is imperative for the EU and the member states to come together to jointly tackle this crucial issue.

We, as the European Youth Forum, have been and will continue to reach out to all member states and members of the European Parliament to see how we can jointly address this issue, and together guarantee that all young people in Europe have access to a quality job.

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