EU and youth unemployment measures: band-aid on a skin of a patient whose actual disease is internal?

Zuzana Novakova (Slovakia)Zuzana Novaková (27, Slovakia)

The social side of European integration started to make its way onto the agenda of the Council meetings rather late in the crisis. After years of emergencies over bailouts of banking institutions and stabilization of common currency, a citizen did oftentimes feel like his share of burden in the crisis was not of much relevance for those advancing the European project. Last week’s summit focusing on the youth unemployment came in as one of the rather rare policy gestures in recognition of saliency of the human and social costs of the crisis.

Although very welcome, the agreements reached somehow seem to continue down the track of patchwork solutions and short-termism characteristic of the EU approach in this field. The mantras of more training and more mobility can only work well if they become a part of a complex approach rather than measures of their own. Otherwise they might play out as plasters on a skin of a patient whose actual disease is internal.

Guaranteeing an internship, training or return to education creates an illusion that jobs are waiting out there and the current youth is just not prepared enough. A devil’s advocate would ask how much of the work which gets done nowadays in subsidized yet underpaid internship positions used to be part of a regular job position of assistants and secretaries before.

Here enters the increasingly pronounced need to stimulate entrepreneurship, to support SMEs, to empower young people to create opportunities rather than consume subsidized short-term placements. The EU level is uniquely placed platform to do so. The EU should seek to move beyond offering “more finance” towards offering “more of a common approach”. To “complement” the joint effort on access to credit also by the much needed work on the mentality of Europeans: to offer structural support for a shift from “culture of employees” towards a less risk-averse stance among its (young) citizens. Attitude towards failure is one of the key aspects to be addressed and the EU level seems best suited to do so. One example for the many: why do young entrepreneurs prefer to leave Europe to launch huge start-ups across the Atlantic after they failed to do so here in the old continent?

The role of Germany in stimulating entrepreneurship in Europe seems clear, yet difficult to digest. What might Mrs Merkel do? German government would have to allow for consumption, especially on its domestic market, as un-German as that may sound. The trade surplus that German economy runs with the rest of the continent cannot be sustained in the long run. We need “new” markets and the consumer potential in the countries least touched by the crisis is immense if its consumption paradigm alters. Yet this seems a Pandora’s box in the country’s internal politics that nobody dares to open.