What if the youth could change Europe’s economic reality?

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

17 million Europeans work in a different member state to their country of origin. [European Youth Forum]

This article is part of our special report Looking for jobs after the crisis.

We need a reality check. Some in Europe may be celebrating the slow but steady rise in employment rates and economic growth. But young people have very little to celebrate, writes Luis Alvarado Martinez.

Luis Alvarado Martinez is the President of the European Youth Forum, a platform which consists of youth councils on a national level as well as international non-governmental youth organisations in Europe.

We are the generation who has had to bear the highest cost of the economic crisis and the group in society most at risk of poverty and social exclusion

What if, this year, we had the power to change this reality?

The opportunity to set a new course for Europe is within reach. Discussions are already ongoing in the European Commission to determine the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). This will shape the political priorities of the European Union for at least the next five years and undoubtedly have a direct impact on us citizens. Young people’s futures are hanging in the balance.

So what kind of Europe do we want to build? If our ideal future is a society based on sustainable living, quality jobs, and equality of opportunity for all, then the answer is clear. We need to invest in youth. The time is now.

Investing in youth is investing in Europe

Making the choice to invest in youth is not about prioritising one generation over others. Investing in young generations means safeguarding the future of the European project itself.

By prioritising and investing in programmes such as Erasmus+ or the Youth Employment Initiative, the European Union is supporting hundreds of projects focused on including and empowering young people, fighting social and economic exclusion and preventing discrimination and hate speech from taking root in our societies. Imagine how much could be achieved if there was an increase in funding to fight youth unemployment or ten times more budget for Erasmus+?

Young people are already making a difference in our societies, doing things differently and making changes. Europe needs to build on this, to invest in this.

EU should harness economic recovery to push structural reforms, economists say

Despite positive momentum, the European economy still faces challenges in terms of low investment, youth unemployment and the social fracture growing across the bloc.

But, isn’t this happening already?

Both yes, and no.

The good news is that the EU is on the right path. The Youth Guarantee is one example of the potential the EU has to make a real difference in the lives of young people. This promising initiative aims to provide all young people under 25 with a good-quality, concrete offer within four months of them leaving formal education or becoming unemployed. Exactly the kind of ambition that we need!

The less good news is that since the launch of the Youth Guarantee, supported financially by the Youth Employment Initiative, the implementation has been less than smooth sailing. Only now are we beginning to see some of the positive impact.

The value of the Youth Guarantee in the fight against youth unemployment is clear. What we are faced with, however, is a gap between the outcomes that were promised and the funding that was actually made available. Vulnerable young people, the group most in need of this support and the main target of the Youth Guarantee, are those who have been most let down by this lack of sufficient investment.

So, how can we make sure that we don’t continue to fall short of what can be achieved?

We need to keep investing directly in young people. This is key. However, we can also be much more effective in monitoring where this money is invested. Reaching out to those young people who are furthest away from society and the labour market, requires us to better understand the specific barriers they face. This is why the role of youth organisations could not be more crucial. They are best placed to increase the value and success of the Youth Guarantee, acting as intermediaries between young people and employment services on the ground. However, they can’t do the best work possible without the current administrative burdens and restrictive access to funding.

Changing the way we think about ‘youth issues’.

The Europe that young people want goes far beyond the “any job is better than no job” mentality. Our generation is done with being used as cheap labour, stuck in endless cycles of unpaid internships and precarious jobs.

The next Multiannual Financial Framework is an opportunity to work towards a more Social Europe, to turn the new Social Pillar into more than just a set of guiding principles. This means concrete actions with adequate funding to ensure that social inclusion and social rights become a reality for all.

Building a better future and changing the reality for young Europeans requires us to go beyond only looking at the latest employment statistics. We can’t expect to meet the needs of current and future young generations without looking at how we can achieve this across all policy areas. The wellbeing of young people cannot be confined to just one government department.

If we want to innovate we need to ensure that youth initiatives, such as the Youth Guarantee, are part of a wider, comprehensive strategy. It’s time to have real measurement and quantification of how much money the EU invests in young people. It’s time to move towards a model based on concrete results.

The increasingly familiar words we hear so often from our political leaders that ‘youth are the future’, mean nothing if not backed up by real financial commitment. These resources must not only be reflected in the framework of the next Multiannual Financial Framework but also in national budgets. The financial backing and support of member states’ to effectively implement EU schemes cannot be understated.

The European Youth Forum and our member organisations across the continent are ready to work for a better reality for all young people in Europe. Our voice must not be excluded from the discussions.

It’s simple. For the future of Europe, we can’t afford to not invest in youth.

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