Yesterday German and French Ministers presented a “New Deal for Europe” aimed at tackling youth unemployment. The plan is based on three main pillars: access to credit for small and medium-sized businesses; assistance to fund apprenticeships; and encouraging mobility throughout Europe. Unfortunately the plan contains mainly repackaged old promises. A few key issues have been forgotten – but there is still time to take them on board.
1) Young people are a resource, not a problem. This realisation at a wider societal and political level would go a long way towards solving the manifold problems of the young generation. Trapped in a limbo of unemployment, underemployment or an endless cycle of education because of a lack of job opportunities, many of Europe’s youth perceive themselves as ‘useless’ and powerless. Since self-esteem is a precondition for active and positive citizenship, this could have significant repercussions for long-term social cohesion and democratic stability. Young people must be better engaged in political processes and decision-making in order to give them a sense of control over their own lives. Politicians and officials at national and European level must show more interest and engage more with young voters; listen to their views and talk to young people about what matters to them.
2) Entrepreneurship should play a much bigger role. Finding ways to tap into the innate innovativeness of young people is an area that should be given more attention. Europe’s youth are best positioned to make the most of the single market and the globalised age. Many young people note that their generation has become more “risk-averse”. Young Europeans should be encouraged to overcome their unwillingness to take risks. Some countries have introduced policies to encourage youth entrepreneurship, but this should become a matter of priority across Europe. The question of how to foster entrepreneurial spirit and conditions in which the entrepreneurs can actively create opportunities should be taken seriously, perhaps looking across the Atlantic for inspiration.
3) Apprenticeships are no substitute for a real job. Education and apprenticeships are crucial to smoothen the transition from education to work and to respond to the salient issue of education being misaligned with the needs of the labour market. However, it remains questionable how the additional skills and experience can be capitalized upon in a labour market which becomes increasingly more characterized by the unequal insertion of the young workers. A run from one (underpaid) internship to another and precarious temporary contracts are what is offered to most of the young generation in an increasing number of career fields. Several studies have pointed out that the people entering labour market in times of recession tend to face worse conditions during their entire career.
4) Labour mobility must not lead to brain drain from peripheral states and regions. While moving abroad can be a very beneficial experience for a young person both personally and professionally, emigration becomes a problem when it occurs on a mass scale and in only one direction. Some European regions and countries – Spain is a good example – are experiencing a significant brain drain, which could have a long-term impact on economic development and the entire fabric of society in the sending states. In the long term, we need measures to prevent further marginalisation of countries and regions in the periphery. Or a real single labour market with all that would entail.
Finally we should note that any major policy response to youth unemployment should have the support of all relevant stakeholders. Radical reforms cannot be divisive or perceived as partisan if they are to address the uncertainty and insecurity that Europe’s youth is currently experiencing. To solve the current crisis, Europe’s leaders must bring their ‘lost generation’ with them.
To read the full FutureLab Europe policy manifesto on ‘Europe’s Lost Generation’ in our recent report here.