Posted on 06. May 2013

by Heidi Beha

heidi_beha-2012-2015-modifiedReflections on the debate with Commissoner Joaquín Almunia on Europe’s lost generation.

In the aftermath of the Arab Spring it looks as if it has become en vogue for politicians to be advocates of the youth. Teenagers could be dangerous with their Facebook revolutions and their practices of setting cars and in some countries even governments on fire. Especially European politicians took the chance to cover this topic. Why? Youth unemployment is an noncritical issue as everyone has to applaud if you say that it’s a serious problem and you will tackle it. Also you won’t need big legislation or a lot of money to show your effort. A few billion Euros and a half-baked youth (un)employment package are already a sign and more than national governments are ready to invest.

Commissioner Almunia himself stated that 6 billion Euros (that’s not even a hundreth of the rescue sums and guarantees for banks) to fight youth unemployment are too little and won’t change the perspectives in Greece or Spain. I agree.

My statement during the debate that young people feel that many of the European Union values especially in the economic system including the labour market have proved to fail, stayed unanswered. What will the Commissioner responsible for competition do for those workers traveling desperately to Germany as some companies offer to exploit them there for a few Euros wage a day? In their EU home countries there are no jobs. Companies which do exploit Spanish, Bulgarian or other workers in Germany compete unequally with those which don’t. By the way, this doesn’t mean that Germans don’t welcome workers from other countries – the opposite is true. But it is important to protect these workers from living a life beyond humanity in a foreign country without family and access to crucial things like health care and fair payment. That case shows: The economy is faster than politics and that’s what young people learn the hard way now.

During Europe@debate Commissioner Almunia said that he doesn’t fear the young people in Europe. That’s exactly the point. Why should he? Demographic studies show that we are dying out, voting statistics mark youngsters as mainly absent. Young unemployed Spanish academics will not bring you into office in Brussels.

As Leticia Díez Sánchez stated in a recent Blog post, Europe is about values but also “taking a more utilitarian approach – the economic benefits provided by the market freedoms”. When people in Russia or Ukraine talk about Europe and Schengen their first associations are wealth and prosperity. The youngsters in Europe didn’t set up the values in the EU. We inherited them. A social worker or a nurse earn usually much less than a banker or a sales manager. Income and property no matter how achieved are crucial for the acknowledgement in the European society.

Our generation is not disillusioned or thwarted by war but by wealth, prosperity and the best living conditions ever in Europe. This should make people no matter if 13 or 73 make start to think of what is going wrong.