The European Commission’s Country Specific Recommendations only increase the distance between the EU institutions and the citizens they are supposed to serve, writes Allan Päll.
Allan Päll is secretary general of the European Youth Forum.
We are very concerned to see that in the recently published Country Specific Recommendations (CSRs), the European Commission – by taking a new ‘less is more’ approach and targeting fewer and more specific objectives – puts the creation of sustainable jobs of good quality for future generations at risk. It’s particularly disappointing following last year’s precise recommendations on the issue of youth employment.
As part of the European Semester, these recommendations are intended to guide member states’ budget priorities for the coming year. Unfortunately, young people have cause for concern, as long-term ways to help them to get out of the crisis are woefully neglected in these recommendations.
From a civil society perspective, the choice of the few recommendations per country seems rather arbitrary. Whilst there are some references to health, social inclusion, poverty and education, they are not part of coherent and ambitious strategies for member states to ensure more quality jobs, social inclusion and participation of young people in society. They appear to be totally lost and forgotten in recommendations that give the priority to the need for member states to correct excessive deficits.
The Commission mentions the problem of youth unemployment, but fails to identify the main reasons for this. In fact, the few Recommendations that do mention youth employment focus on the need to put pressure on educational providers to deal with the skills mismatch and to develop vocational education and training. Considering the millions of highly qualified young people that cannot find a job in Europe, this focus on the supply-side is not enough: the demand-side measures, such as public and private investments in job-rich sectors like information and communication technologies and green jobs should be more explicitly mentioned. Member states should not only remove barriers to support such investments but also invest more in the fields of education and research, that prioritise the long-term potential and development of young people.
Furthermore, in relation to youth employment and employment in general, the recommendations only slightly touch upon the issue of the quality of jobs, which is crucial for young people to recover from the crisis. The recommendations highlight the need for more flexibility in terms of differentiated wages and labour law. The rationale for this, according to the Commission in the CSR for France for example, is that it could ‘provide more incentives for employers to hire on open-ended contracts’. This almost ignores the fact that this de-regulatory approach to labour markets is highly risky in terms of the quality of jobs that can be created. It can potentially trigger the transformation of existing jobs into precarious jobs, without creating new jobs, and therefore have a severe impact on long-term in-work poverty.
Only six countries received recommendations on poverty and social inclusion, despite the fact that the EU as a whole is a long way from achieving its poverty reduction target of 20 million. With young people at higher risk of being in poverty due, often, to their precarious working conditions, such recommendations, and lack thereof, are deeply worrying.
Luckily, some positive surprises can be found here and there, for instance in the recommendations for Poland to take measures to reduce the excessive use of temporary contracts; for Portugal to improve the outreach of Public Employment Services to non-registered young people; for Romania to set a transparent minimum wage and introduce a minimum insertion income; as well as the reference to mini-jobs (short term and very low paid jobs) in the CSR for Germany. However, even in this latter case, the recommendation calls for revision of the tax exemptions of mini-jobs, suggesting that young workers, and not employers offering them, might be the ones to blame in accepting mini-jobs and choosing to stay in them.
Finally, the Commission’s decision to make fewer and shorter recommendations on ‘key areas’ does not bring the European Semester closer to European citizens. Indeed, if this choice is defended by the Commission as a need for more efficiency, this makes it even more difficult for civil society organisations to try to influence the European Semester. How can we now convince young people and youth organisations that they can have a role in influencing such a limited number of priorities, so far from their everyday work and challenges? Unfortunately, with these light-touch recommendations, the European Commission has only succeeded in distancing itself from its citizens.
The European Youth Forum will launch, at its YO!Fest, an integral part of the European Youth Event, taking place at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 20-21 May, a groundbreaking study on the social inclusion of young people. EURACTIV is a Media Partner of this event.