„Merkel and Hollande: Put your money where your mouth is!“

Last week Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande hosted their second-in-a-row Youth Conference, this time in Paris. This week EU Ministers gathered in Brussels, to discuss Youth Unemployment – again. High level meeting upon High level meeting is being organised, but in the meantime: what is changing for the unemployed youth? Over the course of the last couple of months, youth unemployment in Spain and Greece has risen from a terrible 50% rate to an even worse 60%! While political leaders are paying lip service to the issue, they are lacking a plan to reactivate Europe’s economy and that is what would be most clearly needed to get on top of the escalating youth unemployment predicament.

In July the German Chancellor hosted the first Youth Unemployment Conference in Berlin. Hopes were high, but outcome lacked. Now again EU Heads of State used President Hollande’s meeting to show their supposed commitment in fighting youth unemployment. And to prove the point: no money was actually put on the table. Given obscure Council negotiations, there was an agreement to allow Spain, France and Italy to use more money from their European Social Found for 2013 to fight youth unemployment. But somehow Greece, Portugal, Ireland or Cyprus, were left out of the agreement.

Fact check: yes, Europe has the most educated young generation it has ever had. Yes, unemployment rates are shooting through the roof. Yes, the European Commission has made only 3 billion of fresh money available through the European Social Fund. Yes, there is no way that this initiative will tackle the problem effectively. Bill Clinton might say: „It’s jobs, stupid!“

The EU is in danger of making itself a laughing stock for the next generation. The „Youth Guarantee“ – promising young people under 25 years of age a good-quality, concrete offer within 4 months of them leaving formal education or becoming unemployed – is a great idea, but with so little money to back it, for most of them it is nothing more than an empty promise.

If madam Merkel and mister Hollande, and all their European counterparts, actually care – like they say they do – about Europe’s youth, they have to finally start putting our taxpayers‘ money where their mouth is.

The politics that got us into this crisis, and that is presently pushing austerity strategies, will not get us out of the hole, on the contrary, they continue digging. The change that is required is a policy of investments in the future: in education and training, and in employment in innovative and green sectors. Dogmatic cutting of public spending, as if there was a way of shrinking into sustainable growth, is socially unacceptable, economically ruinous and politically destabilizing.

Governments cannot pretend they fight against youth unemployment for good as long as they do not change the economic policies. Young people are watching EU politics and they know that too many words without content will not save them.

Greens share the demand to properly finance the Youth Guarantee at EU level. That would be a start. Furthermore, it is high time to truly ensure high quality internships and apprenticeships, to protect young people from labour exploitation. Internships should be limited to a maximum of 6 months, provide decent financial compensation and interns and apprentices should be covered by social protection and labour market protection measures similar to regular employees.

Moreover, to make youths‘ voices better heard, we Greens propose the establishment of a Youth Convention for people less than 30 years of age, representing both organised and non-organised youth. Young people should be able to have a say in policy that is affecting their lives. By reducing the voting age to 16, more young people could influence directly the choices that are being made also on their behalf.

Will we have a young generation that is falling between two stools? What can we expect with regard to this young generations‘ willingness to actively invest in building Europe, if Europe now fails them? Nobody can afford to neglect the issue at hand. But some might try. Unless we speak up loud enough.

This article was written by Raül Romerva MEP and Reinhard Bütikofer, MEP

This article was originally released last week on the website of the Federation of Young European Greens