The pandemic has deepened the unemployment crisis among young people, especially in Europe’s south. A new work placement scheme is now meant to counter youth unemployment across the bloc, the European Commission has said.
Speaking in Strasbourg on Wednesday (15 September), Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the launch of ALMA, a new Erasmus-style placement scheme aimed at providing short-term work experience to young Europeans in other EU member states.
“We must step up our support to those who fall into the gaps – those not in any kind of employment, education or training,” the Commission President said in her annual State of the Union speech.
The 2008 financial crisis taught Europe a lesson – about the need to invest not just in short term recovery, but also in long-term reforms, von der Leyen stressed.
“Our union will be stronger if it is more like our next generation: reflective, determined and caring. Grounded in values and bold in action,” she said, warning not to “create new divides” with young people that have been cheated out of some of their most formative years.
A similar idea had been incorporated in a 1995 EU programme. Called Leonardo, the programme aimed at enhancing labour market mobility and funded practical projects in the field of vocational education and training.
As of July 2021, 2,854 million people under 25 years of age were unemployed across the EU, of which a total of 2,339 million come from inside the eurozone, according to Eurostat.
Although youth unemployment declined from 18.7% last year to 16.2% in the EU and 16.5% in the eurozone, Europe’s South is currently struggling with high youth unemployment rates.
Greece’s jobless rate, which has been falling but remains the highest in the euro zone, rose to 17.0% in April from an upwardly revised 16.8% in the previous month, data from statistics service ELSTAT showed on Wednesday (16 September).
Among those aged 15 to 24, the jobless rate rose to 46.8% from 33.6% in the same month in 2020.
Youth organisations across the bloc welcomed von der Leyen’s initiative, but cautioned however not to create another “paper tiger”.
“ALMA will have to be developed in complementarity with the EURES Targeted Mobility Scheme (TMS) that already supports 18+ who wish to find a job, traineeship or apprenticeship in an EU member state, Iceland or Norway (e.g. financing language courses, recognition of qualifications, travel and subsistence expenses),“ Eurodesk, the European youth information network, stressed.
Von der Leyen also proclaimed she would make 2022 the ’Year of European Youth‘, with young people being encouraged to contribute to the debate in the consultations of the Conference on the Future of Europe as this is “their future and this must be their Conference too“.
“Our Union needs a soul and a vision they can connect to. Or as Jacques Delors asked: How can we ever build Europe if young people do not see it as a collective project and a vision of their own future?,“ Von der Leyen asked.
Her announcement comes as the first European citizen’s panel sessions are due to start next weekend.
By the end of the year, the panels will formulate recommendations, which will be discussed at a plenary that brings together citizens, representatives of EU institutions and national parliaments as well as other stakeholders.
The recommendations will feed into a final report, which will be prepared in spring 2022 by the executive board of the Conference, comprised of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission.
Critics have dismissed the consultation process as bureaucratic and unlikely to produce tangible results, like the French consultations once conducted by President Emmanuel Macron, which fell flat.
Responding to EU lawmakers in Strasbourg, Von der Leyen promised to “give a follow up” on the conference’s conclusions.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]