Youth unemployment needs an EU response

At the end of June European summit European national leaders agreed to set aside 8 billion euros, more than the 6 originally earmarked in February, to tackle youth unemployment throughout Europe. Since the crisis sparked in Europe 8 million of youth have fund themselves without a job and without a chance to get any. Having a look to the statistics on unemployment – near 60 per cent in Spain, above 40 per cent in Italy and Portugal – this funding shows immediately what it is: just peanuts. European national leaders have got headings on the paper and flashy pictures with shacking hands at the summit but back home they found the same situation without any hope of change.

Eight billion euros, with the bulk available over a two-year period starting in 2014 and the remaining becoming available over the full seven years of the next EU budget. The funds will form the basis of a “Youth Guarantee” that aims to provide a job, training or apprenticeship to young people within four months of their leaving school, full-time education or becoming unemployed. Under the EU scheme, funds would be channelled to regions where youth unemployment is above 25 percent. It also foresees new efforts to promote the mobility of young job-seekers and the introduction of apprenticeships and work-based learning of the kind seen in Germany and Austria. The European Investment Bank EIB is to help small businesses employ and train youngsters, and some European “structural funds” are to be redeployed towards helping the young.

Let’s be honest: are 8 billion euros supposed to change anything? The answer is No. This amount of money over two years is the equivalent of more or less 850 euros a year for every young European who is neither in work, nor training nor education. Then what sense in boosting training and apprenticeship without any concrete policy focusing on growth at European level? Southern countries have been squeezed in austerity measures for years and are too far to do what is needed to realize the European good intentions. Finally all the training system which the leaders’ strategy is inspired to is based on the German model, but, again Europe is not Germany and never it will be.

Southern end Eastern countries in Europe are proving to be unfit to solve the problem on their own and at the European level they can just ask for more money as some of them did, afterwards presenting the coins received as a great success in front of a hungry and angry public opinion. But young Europeans need other measure such as a real and deep reform of the labour market which undermine the gerontocratic systems in some countries such as Italy, incentives to mobility within the EU and definitely a cultural and social switch. Money helped in making more international the university system in Europe – although the percentage of who studies abroad is still low – but alone it is not enough.

The days before and the day of the summit itself have been dominated by the typical atmosphere of the ’Europan Council’ meetings: 27 leaders – now 28 – coming to Brussels to solve a huge problem just with some hours of talks. After the dust settled, the result was another ’nothing’. After the agreement, Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen said: “It’s a lot of money, but of course everybody must understand that the main responsibility lies in the hands of governments, and the tools must be used or taken at the national level”. He is mistaken. First of all it is not ’a lot of money’ and secondly ’national governments’ are not the key. Youth unemployment has been an issued for ages in some member states, only Germany managed to come out from the dire straits of the 2005, when the German youth-jobless rate was over 15 per cent.

The only way out is at European level. Only the EU has the means – if the Member States stop undermining the EU budget – the structure (the internal market) and the social and cultural requirements to boost such a revolution. Gerontocracy in Italy, corruption in Greece and austerity measures by Germany are all but powerful enough to drive 8 million of young Europeans out of the stagnation. Europe can but it has to be allowed to.

About the Author

The Corner
The Corner has a team of on-the-ground reporters in capital cities ranging from New York to Beijing. Their stories are edited by the teams at the Spanish magazine Consejeros (for members of companies’ boards of directors) and at the stock market news site Consenso Del Mercado (market consensus). They have worked in economics and communication for over 25 years.

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