The philosopher José Ortega y Gasset once famously stated “Spain is the problem, Europe is the solution”. This might sound like a harsh declaration, yet for many Spaniards it felt particularly true some seventy years after the famous quote was voiced. In 1986, Spain acceded the EU after forty (dull) years of Franco’s dictatorship. As Almunia (Spanish himself too) explained during our Europe@debate in Brussels, for his generation Europe meant peace, democracy and prosperity. The European values represented a rescue from the previous dictatorship, and the Single Market embodied the end of a long period of international insulation.
Many of the current EU member states had similar projections back in the times of their accession, be that hoping that Europe would serve to stabilise past war conflicts (France and Germany) or to overcome preceding totalitarian regimes (Greece, Portugal and the Eastern countries). Like Almunia, the generations that lived the early years of European integration process remain respectful for, and emotionally attached to the European ideal: the fundamental values it was said to embrace, and – taking a more utilitarian approach – the economic benefits provided by the market freedoms.
This is all a very nice narrative, but it is now too distant from younger generations. Almunia claimed that time has provided for additional motivations to feel European: the assertion of our position in a global context, the external promotion of the archetypically European values and principles. Yet if you ask one of the 57% unemployed young Spaniards, he will probably tell you that principles and values sound like a nice thing, but that he cannot make a living out of them. It is no surprise that current social movements across Europe are mainly made up of young generations disenchanted with the system’s deliverables. Sadly, this same generation might be marked for the rest of their life with a negative portrayal of a EU and its poor performance when they needed it the most, just as Almunia did in the opposite sense.
It is time for the young to fight for the European dream, and it is time for the European institutions to give them tangible reasons to do so. Europe should be a concern for citizens and elites equally – and the will to exit the socio-economic crisis should come from both sides. Some proposals on the table include the promotion of young entrepreneurship, improving the conditions of (overqualified, underpaid and unpaid) interns and higher harmonisation of social standards for workers and their associated welfare entitlements. This requires positive action (famously called re-regulation), compromises at the highest political levels and redistributive solidarity among nations.
Almunia claimed that youngsters’ incentive to take part in Europe should come from their concerns about the place and the community of peoples where they will spend the rest of their lives. Futurelab Europe strongly agree with this. Perhaps it is also time for the political leaders to apply in their daily functions the same positive determination, strategic planning and solidarity feelings in order to show that Europe is still the solution.