Youth unemployment: No light at the end of the tunnel

On 4 April 2014, the members of the Workers' Group of the EESC took part in a demonstration organised by the European Trade Union Confederation in Brussels. (EESC photographic library).

On 4 April 2014, the members of the Workers’ Group of the EESC took part in a demonstration organised by the European Trade Union Confederation in Brussels. (EESC photographic library).

Last Friday the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) held a public hearing on the implementation of European Union policies to counter youth employment. EESC is a consultative body made up by representatives of Europe’s socio-occupational interest groups and others (employers, workers and various interest groups). It gives its members a platform to express their point of view on EU issues and forwards them to the Council, the European Commission and the European Parliament. In this way it plays a decisive role in the Union’s decision-making process.

During this last public hearing, the Labour Market Observatory (LMO) of the EESC conducted a detailed stock taking on EU policies on youth unemployment. “The hearing involved high-level stakeholders, from EU institutions – the Commission and the European Parliament – as well as from Eurofound, the EU social partners and European and national youth organisations”. It must be noted, that today the Commission will host a conference in Brussels to discuss progress towards tackling youth unemployment through the Youth Guarantee and how EU countries are implementing the scheme.

The Youth Guarantee

The subject matter of the hearing was the implementation of the Youth Guarantee scheme. The study focuses on the views and recommendations of organised civil society on the policies currently in place to help young people find work in a selection of six Member States (Austria, Croatia, Finland, Greece, Italy and Slovakia). The “Youth Guarantee project”, was adopted by the European Council of the 28 EU leaders in July last year. It provides €6 billion for a scheme aimed at making sure that within four months,, all youths under the age of 25 after leaving school get an offer of a job, an apprenticeship or a traineeship.

The target is to reverse the tsunami of unemployment engulfing EU’s youths, but the results are far from encouranging. Since 2008-9, when the EU financial crisis first broke out, 1000 young people join every day the ranks of the unemployed, according to the EESC. In the worst hit countries, youth unemployment has reached unheard before levels (in Greece 58.3% in December 2013, Spain 53.6% and Croatia 48.8% in the fourth quarter of 2013).

Reading carefully the Press release issued afterwards, the main conclusion that can be drawn is that the Youth Guarantee scheme works better in countries where it is less needed. In EU member states like Austria with low overall and youth unemployment rates, it seems that the scheme works alright. There are Member States such as Austria and Finland that already have a Youth Guarantee in place, in full partnership with the relevant stakeholders.
What can be done?

Paying the dearest price

However, in Member States where the levels of youth unemployment are more than just alarming, implementation, use of EU funds and involvement of stakeholders is lagging behind. Heinz K. Becker, MEP (Austria, EPP) stated “I consider the mandatory inclusion of the European Youth Guarantee in the European Semester (the new EU economic governance structures) of the utmost importance, in order to step up the so-called benchlearning at European level and to support Member States with their ongoing reforms!”

Discussion was focused also on intra EU mobility of workers. Encouraging internal migration from one EU country to another in search of a job, has acquired lately a special position in EU’s labour market policies. The factor of mobility in the EU is a politically sensitive point though for many Member States, as it is considered on the one hand, as one of the most positive aspects of the EU project, while on the other hand, it surely generates a brain drain in the long run. As Dubravka Šuica, Croatian MEP (EPP) pointed out “Over 30,000 young people who should be the vectors of economic recovery have left the country already. Mobility is a great instrument but it is a 2-sided coin “.

The core problem remains that despite the fact the financial crisis is largely behind, there is no indication the labour market has started to benefit from that. The anemic economic growth cannot offer more quality jobs. Massimiliano Mascherini, Research Manager for Eurofound, observed that completing their education is not any more a cause for celebration for the young because looking for a job may ve a long and painful process.

In total, EESC’s public hearing on youth unemployment arrived at disappointing conclusions and didn’t detect a light at the end of the tunnel.

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