“We don’t want to leave Greece, but the constant uncertainty makes us tired and depressed.”
Athenian university graduate Alexandros
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The ‘lost generation’ left by the wayside
DER SPIEGEL HAMBURG
With nearly one in four young Europeans out of work, jobs must be one of the Union’s top priorities. But member states, especially those in the south, seem incapable of making the reforms that would set them in the right direction. Excerpts.
Stylia Kampani did everything right, and she still doesn’t know what the future holds for her. The 23-year-old studied international relations in her native Greece and spent a year at the University of Bremen in northern Germany. She completed an internship at the foreign ministry in Athens and worked for the Greek Embassy in Berlin. Now she is doing an unpaid internship with the prestigious Athens daily newspaper Kathimerini. And what happens after that? “Good question”, says Kampani. “I don’t know.”
“None of my friends believes that we have a future or will be able to live a normal life,” says Kampani. “That wasn’t quite the case four years ago.”
Four years ago — that was before the euro crisis began. Since then, the Greek government has approved a series of austerity programs, which have been especially hard on young people. The unemployment rate among Greeks under 25 has been above 50 per cent for months. The situation is similarly dramatic in Spain, Portugal and Italy. According to Eurostat, the European Union’s statistics office, the rate of unemployment among young adults in the EU has climbed to 23.5 percent. A lost generation is taking shape in Europe. And European governments seem clueless when they hear the things people like Athenian university graduate Alexandros are saying: “We don’t want to leave Greece, but the constant uncertainty makes us tired and depressed.”
Instead of launching effective education and training programs to prepare Southern European youth for a professional life after the crisis, the Continent’s political elites preferred to wage old ideological battles. There were growing calls for traditional economic stimulus programs at the European Commission in Brussels. The governments of debt-ridden countries paid more attention to the status quo of their primarily older voters. Meanwhile, the creditor nations in the north were opposed to anything that could cost money.
In this way, Europe wasted valuable time, at least until governments were shaken early this month by news of a very worrisome record: Unemployment among 15- to 24-year-olds has climbed above 60 per cent in Greece.
Suddenly Europe is scrambling to address the problem. Youth unemployment will top the agenda of a summit of European leaders in June. And Italy’s new prime minister, Enrico Letta, is demanding that the fight against youth unemployment become an “obsession” for the EU.
Big Promises, Scant Results
These are strong words coming out of Europe’s capitals today, but they have not been followed by any action to date.
For instance, in February, the European Council voted to set aside an additional €6bn to fight youth unemployment by 2020, tying the package to a highly symbolic job guarantee. But because member states are still arguing over how the money should be spent, the package can’t begin earlier than 2014.
A recent Franco-German effort remains equally nebulous. Berlin and Paris want to encourage employers in Southern Europe to hire and train young people by providing them with loans from the European Investment Bank (EIB). The concept is supposed to be unveiled at the end of May. German labour minister Ursula von der Leyen is its strongest advocate.
In contrast, German efforts to combat the crisis have been limited to recruiting skilled workers from Greece, Spain and Portugal. But now politicians are realising that high unemployment in Athens and Madrid is a threat to democracy and could be the kiss of death for the eurozone. Perhaps it takes reaching a certain age to recognize the problem. “We need a program to eliminate youth unemployment in Southern Europe. [European Commission President José Manuel] Barroso has failed to do so,” says former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, now 94. “This is a scandal beyond compare.”
Economists also argue that it’s about time Europe did something about the problem. “The long-term prospects of young people in the crisis-ridden countries are extremely grim. This increases the risk of radicalisation of an entire generation,” warns Joachim Möller, director of Germany’s Institute of Employment Research, a labour market think tank.
The Franco-German proposal to help Southern European employers is a case in point. Under the plan, the €6bn from the EU youth assistance program would be distributed to companies through the EIB and thus would multiply, as if by magic. In the end, speculate the plan’s proponents, 10 times as much money could be brought into circulation, putting an end to the credit crunch facing many Southern European small businesses.