Political rhetoric is not enough to save a lost generation in Europe

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

Young people must be given a fair share of the budget of the European Union as they have the right to real investments, not just nice words. The proposed budgets for youth programmes are not enough, writes Peter Matjaši?.

Peter Matjaši? is president of the European Youth Forum, the European umbrella organisation representing young people in Europe.

"Not investing in the younger generations is costly. According to Eurofound, in terms of foregone earnings and excess transfers alone, youth unemployment costs the taxpayer approximately €153 billion per year in the European Union. These are only some of many of the costs that the Union and its member states incur by not adequately investing in youth.

In February, youth unemployment – joblessness among under-25s – continued to grow, up to 23.5% from 22.5% during the same period a year ago, an indication that the eurozone debt crisis is particularly affecting young people. Besides that there were 16.6% of so-called NEETs – not in employment, education, training – (15-34 year olds) in 2011 in EU-27. These figures clearly show that youth is one the groups suffering from the financial crisis. In order to survive from the crisis, Europe treat this challenge with the serious it requires, political rhetoric is not enough.

Europe needs to invest in youth, especially for programmes that directly support young people and youth organisations that empower them.

Non-formal education (NFE), a method used especially in youth organisations and youth work, has a big impact on the skills development of a young person. Besides personal development, it supports employability. Participation in the NFE activities of youth organisations is especially important for the employability of those with lower levels of social capital.

Besides employability, youth organisations support young people’s active citizenship and participation. This is much needed when we look at low voting turnouts especially in the European Elections. The participation in the 2009 elections for the European Parliament turned out be dramatically low, with only 43% . In the recent European Parliament elections in Croatia the turnout was just 20.8%. It seems that it is especially difficult to engage young people to go and vote for an institution that they often barely understand. Further investing in education – formal and non-formal – ?for young people is one of the many solutions to cope with this problem. Studies show that people who are active in civil society organisations are more likely to vote, including youth organisations and young people. By supporting youth organisations, which are extremely important providers of civic education, the EU also supports the active citizenship and higher voting turnout of young people.

The Union has great programmes to support young people in education, training and youth.  Originally the European Commission proposed €19.1 billion for this future programme – Erasmus for All – the 2014-2020 period. After the European Council agreement on the MFF the figure for this important programme has gone down to 13.01 billion euros, only 1.3% of the overall budget of the Union. In the same meeting of the European Council, it was decided to dedicate €6 billion (0.62% of the over all budget of the union) for the implementation for the Youth Guarantee.

If politicians actually want to support young people’s employability, active citizenship and participation as well as mobility, €13 billion for a specific education and youth programme supporting these aims is embarrassing. The €6 billion for the Youth Guarantee is not enough either. The International Labour Organization calculated that an investment of €21 billion was required in order to bring in a Youth Guarantee just for the Eurozone. These figures illustrate how little the EU is financially ready to invest in its youth today and in long run of its own future. These figures are worrying, but do not fully picture the social impact of low rates of active citizenship, higher rates of early school leaving and poor access to social services. The cost of the social exclusion of young people could soon become a problem that we can’t solve.

Young people understand that during the crisis, we have to prioritise and invest in the areas than can bring growth, stability and jobs. Investing in youth, especially in specific programmes supporting young people, is a step towards these goals. The European Youth Forum, with strong support from the European Parliament, have demanded the EU set youth as a priority within the next MFF and dedicate adequate resources to the youth specific programmes. The Forum and the Parliament see this as one important step out of the crisis.

Young people have a right to a fair share of the budget of the Union; they have a right to real investments, not just nice words. The €13 billion and €6 billion proposed are not enough. We need more. Otherwise we will create a lost generation. Europe can’t afford that."

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