Youth leader: ‘We, Europe’s young people, feel as though we are being left behind’

Johanna Nyman [European Youth Forum]

Young people deserve a better situation than either being unemployment or accepting unpaid internships, says Johanna Nyman. The inadequate response of the EU and national governments threaten to turn Europe’s youth into a lost generation, she argues.

Johanna Nyman is the newly-elected President of the European Youth Forum (YFJ), a platform that represents 99 youth organisations in Europe. She spoke to EURACTIV’s Ecaterina Casinge.

Youth unemployment has been on the rise across Europe since the beginning of the crisis, despite the EU adopting new measures to remedy the situation. Why do you think these actions haven’t been successful?

The policy response to the economic crisis, rather than making life better for young people, has made it significantly worse. There are fewer jobs, and when young people are offered these jobs, they are of poor quality, often temporary, and precarious in nature.

Young people have no sense of security or the means to move into autonomous adulthood. There have been some positive measures taken, such as the youth guarantee. But so far these measures have lacked ambition, scope and funding. Too often, they have focused on preparing the youth for the job market rather than looking at ambitious macroeconomic policies that will help drive longer-term growth and create jobs that are of good quality. 

The effects of the economic crisis and the reluctance of national politicians to implement reforms have turned the European youth into a lost generation. Do you think this is the case?

Yes, I agree that this is the case. We, Europe’s young people, feel as though we are being left behind. Several years on after the economic crisis, even though many countries are now emerging from it, young people across Europe are not. In a recent publication published by the Youth Forum, we found that young people in Europe now leave their parents’ home later than before and are delaying getting married and having children. Europe’s leaders need to take action now to pull young people out of the crisis and ensure that we have the means to lead the kind of autonomous lives we should be able to and give us hope that we will not be a lost generation.

Poor quality and unpaid internships have become almost a common practice in Europe. Is there an end to it? How could the EU, member states, and the businesses offer better opportunities for youth?

Poor quality unpaid internships are indeed a huge problem across Europe. Internships today are increasingly offering little educational value and instead replacing real jobs, with none of the security and value of a real job. Despite years of advocating against this clear exploitation of young people in the workplace, there has been no real action at EU or member state level to tackle the problem. The European Youth Forum works with various stakeholders, trade unions, companies and institutions, to ensure that quality internships will become a reality for all young Europeans.

Based on the European Quality Charter for Internships and Apprenticeships, we urge all providers of internships and apprenticeships to commit to quality standards and to apply a clear and coherent code of conduct, leading by example, in order to end the use of young European’s as a cheap labour force.

How could youth organisations help EU and national lawmakers put in place the best tools to provide better education and create more jobs for young people in Europe?

Young people and youth organisations are best placed to advise decision makers on the type of schemes which would most effectively support them to get quality jobs. That is why we encourage the EU and national governments to consult and work closely with youth organisations when developing such measures. 

Is the economic crisis solely to blame for the disadvantaged situation of young people in Europe, or has their lack of preparation also contributed to it?

Young people are not to blame for the situation we are in. It is a combination of factors and, of course, the economic crisis has played a major part as has the poor, inadequate response to it by our leaders, as well as the austerity measures.

However, we continue to see discrimination against young people in society and in the jobs market and, furthermore, the fact that young people’s voice is not heard by the EU institutions worsens the situation. It is time for young people to have the influence and impact we deserve in order to have the same rights as any other citizen. 

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