Year 2008 marked one of the most defining moments of my life: I entered university for the first time. For many of the new university graduates it was also a year to be remembered: as we all know, it was the early crisis months, which meant hard work to enter the job markets. I guess it wasn’t considerate to say it out loud back then but the crisis didn’t really concern me much at all: in fact, I was just happy to notice that the pound was getting weaker against the euro, which meant some extra gains in my tight student budget.
Many of my friends who graduated during those deepest crisis years assured me that by 2012, the year I would get my degree out, the future would look a lot brighter. Also, I remember that my professor once told us in one of our first lectures: don’t worry now; the crisis will be over by the time you graduate.
And what happened? In June this year, nearly five years after my professor’s reassuring words, the French President Francois Hollande claimed during his visit to Japan that yes, the crisis in Europe is over, trying to assure the Japanese investors about the strength of the European markets. His statement was not the only one of its kind: many others, from ministers to economists, have claimed the (worst of the) euro-zone crisis to be over months, even years before Hollande’s statement.
There seem to be as many narratives about the crisis as there are people talking about it. Just open any front page of a newspaper and without exception you will find the headlines stating something along these lines: “the Eurozone recession continues”, “slow economic growth persists”, “is there a key to success in the midst of an economic crisis?” Or sometimes on a more optimistic note: “ the recession is over, but the crisis not”. Once I even saw a headline stating, “the crisis is not over ‘till it’s over”. Perhaps it’s just my nature as a historian that I seek closures, ending points to events. If you say it’s over, then it’s over. The language we speak cannot be underestimated and can lead to repercussions.
As an example, think about the Youth Guarantee: a scheme that has been promoted in a small number of EU member states to fight youth unemployment. Although I think this scheme has a great potential and should be implemented EU-wide, calling this program a guarantee is, in my opinion, rather bold. Here in Finland, the guarantee assures that “each young person under 25 or recently graduated people under 30 will be offered a job, a traineeship, a study place or a period in workshop or rehabilitation within three months of becoming unemployed”.1
When the latest revision of the scheme was introduced in Finland earlier this year, hopes were high. After all it is a ‘guarantee’ – a promise, an assurance, a contract. However, the results have been marginal and generally disappointing. Britain has recently been facing similar challenges with their Youth Contract: unemployment schemes for young people have been ineffective. There’s a danger that the guarantee turns into one of those great buzzwords of our time, remembered as a mere word labelling the policy.
I don’t think Europeans are simply taking these narratives at face value but people want to hear the truth. The language we use (or don’t use) has the power to deepen the gap between the unemployed youth, euro-sceptics or other ‘victims’ of the crisis on the one side, and on the other, the designers of Youth Guarantees, heads of the states giving comments about the end of the crisis or economists debating if the times are good, bad, a little bit worse or a little bit better today. €8 billion has been pledged in the European Youth Guarantee2 scheme and if it succeeds, it has a great potential not only to enhance the lives of millions of youth but also to restore their trust in the EU again – with ‘Youth-Maybe-Guarantees’ it won’t.