Originally published on 2013/04/24

One of the drastic consequences of the most recent global fnancial crisis that has deeply touched the European Union -the euro zone in particular- is that more and more young people are seeking opportunities elsewhere. Two videos by the EuroparlTV and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) show the difficulty the EU is facing in tackling the youth unemployment issue. What are the measures being taken by the EU? How come they cannot prevent the “great escape”, as more and more Europeans are fleeing to emerging economies around the world? These are important questions for all of us to think about.

Youth unemployment in Europe

The European sovereign debt crisis is certainly having a devastating effect on youth unemployment. Around 5.5 million Europeans under 25 (22.7%) are unemployed during the third quarter of 2012. In some countries, such as Spain and Greece, the situation is even more dramatic with over 50% of youth unable to find a job. With fewer and fewer investors in Europe, young people and seniors are the most vulnerable to budget cuts and the reduced amoun of investment. In addition to this, the jobs offered in the EU labour market and the skills and qualifications of young Europeans are mismatched. This asymmetry leads to 2 million unfilled vacancies in the EU, despite the crisis.

Clearly, the EU has identified and attempted to tackle the main issues described in the previous part. Its key actions include measures in the field of education and culture, EU skills panorama, Youth on the Move, Youth Employment Package (2012) and Youth Employment Initiatives (2013)[1]. These measures are monitored and the results are published on the Europa website. However, just as tackling the barriers for services (as opposed to goods), barriers to youth employment are simply too difficult to counter, even more so since the EU’s competence on this field is limited to coordination and support (and stipulated in the Lisbon Treaty). Moreover, are these measures attractive enough to counter the increasing investments in emerging economies and the difficulties for Europe to maintain its social level and system?

Given the overall picture of the situation, what can –or should- we do now? The two main solutions available to young Europeans seem to be struggling in Europe by accepting temporary jobs or moving out of Europe to seek opportunities elsewhere.

Should I stay or should I go?

Just one or two generations ago, work could be found more easily in the European market when the “temptation from the East (emerging economies)” were still distant. Businesses were predominantly hold in the Western world and opportunities to work abroad were not so evident, so a great majority of young people followed a scheme that was quite comprehensible and chose a path following that scheme. In this very rapidly interdependent world however, investments are restraining in a Europe with high social costs and being less and less competitive. Three main groups of youth seem to emerge. First, young people who want to move to richer European countries or abroad and but are somehow limited by their traditions, language and skills, but also the lack of investments in their respective country. Second, young people who are amongst the privileged elites who can then have the sufficient global networks and means to deal with the crisis situation. The third one is the middle-class societies who have the opportunity and means to adapt themselves to the global challenge, but still faced with some identity issues due to the rapid changes in the world economy and politics. In the long term, working abroad does not really leave a space for a stable private life and some might come back with a shock and are forced to re-adapt themselves.  The depiction of this situation only reflects what I have experienced so far and when I speak with young people around me. Surely other situations exist, but these seem to be the most prevailing.

The EU’s solutions to the youth unemployment as mentioned in the first part of the article seem to address the first group in particular. The third group might also benefit from these solutions by programmes such as ERASMUS and Your First EURES Job. These are interesting programmes that young Europeans should seek to benefit from. However, social issues (education, language, culture, identity) are very difficult to tackle and the EU itself cannot be hold responsible for all the problems. How can we build and cement a sense of European identity and culture in this increasingly multipolar world? Looking for jobs in another European country could be a solution, but with fewer and fewer opportunities even in the richest countries in Europe, the majority of the graduated young people of Europe could only expect for temporary jobs even in the richest countries. Is it that worthy? Should we choose Europe and struggle for it at whatever cost or leave everyone to seek opportunities elsewhere?An article posted by The Guardian gives a rather nuanced depiction of the situation of those who have attempted the risks. But after all, do we have a choice? These are questions on our young generations’ minds and which not only European policy-makers, but also all the youth concerned, need to consider.

[1] For a more detailed description of these measures, see the Europa website:http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=1036

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