Young people must reclaim their future

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

Stark unemployment figures represent a much broader, depressing reality than just the state of the economy. They also show academic qualifications that no longer hold value, a lack of decent housing, young people being deprived of opportunities to stand on their own two feet – the ways and means towards self-determination, but there are solutions, writes Reinhard Bütikofer.

Reinhard Bütikofer is an MEP and European Green party co-chair.

"Even though European youth unemployment figures have been discussed ad nauseam, the severity of the situation has been broadly understated. One of the lesser known statistics is this: in 18 out of the current 27 EU member states there are regions in which at least one in four young people can’t find a job.

While the media has focused on countries that have been hit particularly hard by the crisis such as Spain and Greece (where more than 50% of young people can’t find a job), few have noticed that youth unemployment has become a truly pan-European phenomenon, in the saddest way.

Stark unemployment figures represent a much broader, depressing reality than just the state of the economy and the job markets. They also show academic qualifications that no longer hold value, a lack of decent housing, young people being deprived of opportunities to stand on their own two feet – the ways and means towards self-determination.

No one can be surprised about the level of frustration and anger in our young people; I sometimes wonder why there isn’t more of it.

For a brief political moment at the beginning of this year it seemed as if Europe was beginning to understand the challenge that systematic youth unemployment has created.

Both the European Parliament and Commission succeeded in convincing the European Council about the “European Youth Guarantee”, which promised to ensure that all young people under the age of 25 years would receive a good-quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within a period of four months after becoming unemployed or leaving formal education.

A glimmer of hope! But what is left of this example of Social Europe after all the press releases have been sent out and all the press conferences have been held? Without being overly contentious I suggest that you just have to look at the facts to see that usual cynicism is back in control.

Yes, Europe has issued a promise, but it doesn’t seem to have the political will to guarantee implementation. The European Commission has passed on the responsibility to member states, which are now haggling over the most ingenious method of rendering the guarantee useless.

Overall EU funding for the fight against youth unemployment has been limited to just €6 billion over 7 years. Only half of this is fresh money. Spread out over all the eligible regions the funding allows a maximum expenditure of less than €150 per young person, per year.

This is far too little to “guarantee” anything for any young people who might use it to start their own lives! It’s hard to say whether we should be more appalled by the bureaucratic tactics, or by the audacity of throwing away so much hope.

I am optimistic that there is a chance to make a real breakthrough here. To really be players in these power games in their own right, young people need to mobilise across Europe. Business as usual will not do. Member states must show solidarity: the European Youth Guarantee should be worthy of its name and be sufficiently financed.

We need to show trust in young people. They actively want to build their qualifications and experience: a Youth Fund within the EU budget needs to finance young people´s social entrepreneurship, youth civil society, mobilising non-academic youth, and European volunteering. In the field of education, the focus should be improving access for everybody, and on the promotion of dual vocational training and education.

In order to protect young people against exploitation as they make their first steps into their professional lives, legal guarantees for quality internships and apprenticeships are urgently needed.

Furthermore, we must scale up European language education for pupils, students, apprentices, workers, and volunteers so that they can fully take advantage of the possibilities and benefits of a common European education and labour market. Finally, the voting age must be lowered to 16 throughout Europe.

At a time when so many crucial decisions are being taken about the future of our young people, why should we exclude them from participating and risk them losing interest in our democratic systems?

All of these proposals would be less than a revolution, of course. But they could bring real change.

And that would be a revolution."

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