Europe beyond lost generations

Posted on 17. September 2012

by Estefanía Almenta

estefania-almenta-lopez-modifiedSpain is very proud to have the best prepared generation of young people in its history, but not so pleased to confront that all that training is no guarantee for a job. Unemployment in Spain (25%) is twice the average for the rest of the EU, and that percentage soars up to a staggering 50% among the youth. No wonder why the term ‘lost generation’ has become so popular lately.

I’d like to think that the modish expression is far more cruel than descriptive. However, the ugly truth is that most Spanish youngsters are stuck on standby mode, ready to work and waiting for a job opportunity which doesn’t seem to arrive. We can all agree that it is a challenge of titanic proportions to create jobs when the economy is not growing, but sadly in the meanwhile the sense of despair, frustration and helplessness takes over too many young lives. In light of such a distressing scene, there has been a notable surge in emigration towards other European states, and the picture is fairly similar in some other countries such as Greece, Portugal, Italy or Ireland. But is there anything we can do to change this fate?

If there is a lack of chances for Europe’s next generations in this time of austerity and stalling economic growth, we need to set a list of priorities in order to move towards a more promising future. We, as citizens, have much to say and do if we want to ameliorate the conditions of European population. Of course it is politicians’ work to rule the countries and the Union, but it is everybody’s right and duty to think in which direction we want to progress and ask policy-makers to act consequently. Civil initiative is a means to evolve, and although we might be discouraged because of the difficulties to see major changes in the short-term, history has succeeded to prove that the most significant achievements of contemporary states were stimulated by citizens’ activism. Just to give an example, let’s think of the welfare state, today fully embedded in the European democracies thanks to the battle of trade unions.

Civil action is undoubtedly a catalyst for development; however, it might not be enough by itself. It certainly serves the purpose of raising awareness, lobbying, and pressuring governments to deal urgently with an issue. But in a globalised world, civil action has to go a step further. There’s a demand for international cooperation of different social actors who gather, share ideas and support each other for a common interest. The key is to synergise efforts and deploy our existing resources, talents and experience to build prosperity and well-being.

Fortunately, many foundations, NGOs and other organisations all across Europe are already working to overcome barriers and unite all those who believe in the European project. And this is the case of initiatives like the ‘NEF (Network of European Foundations) Unconventional EU Summit’1, where I was one of the lucky 50 delegates – mostly from the European Union and its neighbourhood – who assembled to establish the primary concerns of Europe and to consider how to handle them.

Half of the group was formed by EU decision-makers and opinion-shapers; the other half by innovators from very diverse fields like science, banking, economics, civil society, modern-day protest, the arts, youth, migrants and education. The NEF managed to create a remarkably unconventional team that would not have met otherwise; and also an outstandingly unconventional format where we were asked to interact, discuss, brainstorm and plan without keynote speeches or panel debates.

The group agreed that Europe’s leaders had failed to respond effectively to the crisis. Nevertheless, as it has been the case before, we realised that the crisis is also providing a golden opportunity to walk towards a more integrated and strengthened Union that would have been inconceivable just a few years ago. Needless to say, we cannot neglect to mention the arduousness of surmounting a global crisis like this, but we have suffered other crises before and we have emerged successfully from them. And now we have a new factor playing in our favour: a forceful number of well-educated inhabitants who define themselves as pro-Europeans and are ready to take action for the Union.

We obviously have arguments for talking about a ‘lost generation’. But we also have the basis for working together as active democratic citizens who join forces to build a more cohesive, unprejudiced and prosperous Europe. We know it is a difficult enterprise, but we believe in the power of a joint message conveyed through the passion of civic activism. This is why we, committed citizens, also have more than enough reasons to fight for a better Europe beyond lost generations.

Footnotes

  1. For more information about the NEF: http://www.nef-europe.org