7.5 million Europeans between the ages of 15 and 24 are neither employed nor in education/training.
It’s the kind of statistic we’ve become painfully used to seeing. And, to make things worse, it’s one that our generation even receives blame for. In line with a nostalgia for the good old days that lies behind several poorly conceived political ideologies (UKIP’s attempt at present to turn back the clocks to 1972 comes to mind) we are told that we don’t have the same work ethic that our parents once had. That today’s generation is somehow inferior; that our unemployability is our own fault. Worse still, we’re told off for being distracted by the technology that commercial society constantly tells us we need and the lifestyles it tells us to lead. Our parents blame us for indulging in a world of their own creation. But when MPs such as Iain Duncan Smith lead this charge – a man who thinks that we are so ill-deserving of unemployment benefit that we ought to do community service to receive it, yet will happily splurge £39 of taxpayer’s money on a personal breakfast – we know something’s up. Nobody can realistically blame us for our predicament; what are we but products of the environment in which we find ourselves?
But whilst our status as victims and not perpetrators may be clear enough, the solutions are anything but. As many have noted, the sheer complexity of youth unemployment, not to mention the diversity of stakeholders involved, has rendered the challenge almost impossible to solve. I can’t claim to have the answer either.
One thing is clear, however: it is only through every closer unity of European exchange that we can best hope to solve the problem. By fostering a greater sense of European mobility we can hope to encourage the ‘lost generation’ to look further afield for work than they might have done traditionally. As a 2013 European Commission report found: ‘the risk of long-term unemployment is half or even less for mobile students compared to those who stay at home. Mobility boosts job prospects and encourages labour market mobility later in life.’ This is why cross-European initiatives such as Erasmus are crucial. Who could claim to be less mobile and less employable having spent a significant amount of time living in another European country? Before Erasmus, I probably could have happily spent my entire life in the UK but it is an idea thoroughly alien to me now. Euroscepticism, on both right and left, is often based on the idea that the nation-state could better cater for its citizens when removed from its wider obligations. Nothing could be further from the truth: only by engaging its youth in the global employment market can national governments repair the damage.
In sum, to claim that the nation-state alone can solve the problem is absurd: we must press on with cross-European research initiatives to tackle unemployment.
By Tim Otway (Treasurer of YEM UK)