European Youth Insights is a platform provided by the European Youth Forum and the European Sting, to allow young people to air their views on issues that matter to them. The following entry is written by by Allan Päll, secretary general of the European Youth Forum.
During the EPSCO Council today, Ministers discussed the social and employment aspects of country-specific recommendations, Allan Pall, Secretary General of the European Youth Forum, reacts to these recommendations.
The economic and financial crisis has had significant negative effects on young people with significant cuts to public budgets, especially to education, greater flexibility of employment regulation, which often means young people are first to be fired, last to be hired. Some countries have even opted to make cuts to minimum wages and social benefits based on age – saying that young people should get unequal wages for equal jobs. As a result of such austerity measures, more than half of young Europeans feel that in their country young people have been marginalised from economic and social life. In Greece the figure is as high of 87%.
If young people were hoping that the push to reverse the trend of austerity measures would come from the European level, then unfortunately, they have been disappointed! It is, I am afraid, clear from the Country Specific Recommendations (CSRs), published by the European Commission last month, that the EU is not going to fight to change such discriminatory measures that we witness happening at Member State level.
As part of the European Semester, these CSRs are intended to guide Member States’ budget priorities for the coming year. Unfortunately, young people have cause for concern as long-term ways to help them to get out of the crisis are woefully neglected in these recommendations.
Some of the recommendations do, however, highlight the dramatic challenges that young people are facing: the ‘segmentation of the labour market’ in France, the inability of ‘employment services to deliver on the scale required’ in Ireland, the ‘high proportion of temporary contracts … especially for young workers’ in Poland. However the Recommendations only deplore the situation but do not provide any ambitious proposals to tackle these challenges.
When it comes to recommendations on wages for instance, the Commission focuses exclusively on the ‘alignment of wages with productivity’ or wages that guarantee competiveness. This is worrying for young people who were already suffering from the implementation of ‘youth’ or ‘development’ minimum wages at a lower rate than that of the older population. In Greece, whilst the general minimum wage was cut by 22%, the minimum wage for young people reduced by 32%. This has not led to more jobs or employment either, but only further depressing demand in the economy. At the same time, the IMF for example is saying that paying low-income families (or low earners in general) more would boost growth and the OECD points to the cost of inequality, which – it points out – lowers long term economic potential.
As far as social investments are concerned, the Commission does not seem to be encouraging any further protection of young people against social exclusion. The focus of the CSRs is rather on the ‘financial disincentives to work’ (i.e. for France) and on reforms of social benefits ‘to improve targeting and eliminate overlaps’ (i.e. for Croatia). As a consequence, young people lose trust in public services, in the capacity of the state and – not least – in the European project to protect them and to help them to be socially included,
On tackling youth unemployment, the recommendations concentrate on skills and on their ability or not to match with labour market needs, with for instance ‘reforms of higher education system’ for the Czech Republic, ‘address skills shortage and mismatch’ for Belgium, ‘Increase participation in vocational education and training’ in Poland, Estonia and Lithuania, ‘develop job-relevant skills’ in Finland. Skills development is indeed crucial for youth employability but this pressure on education providers will not be enough to solve the issue of youth unemployment and consequently guarantee social inclusion of young people. Millions of highly skilled and qualified young people, who cannot find a job, illustrate the lack of job creation in Europe. The wisest educational policy and the best educators will not succeed without supportive macro-economic conditions and investment in economy.
It’s not all doom and gloom though and you can find, here and there, some positive recommendations, such as ‘to set a transparent minimum wage and introduce a minimum insertion income’ in Romania, to ‘establish a transparent mechanism for setting the minimum wage and minimum social security contribution’ in Bulgaria, to ‘improve the performance of the healthcare system’ in Lithuania or to ‘take steps to increase the quality and effectiveness of job search assistance and counselling’ in Spain. Nevertheless, with young people at higher risk of being in poverty due often to their precarious working conditions, the choice of these few recommendations on social inclusion per country seems rather arbitrary and insufficient to ensure full participation of young people in society.
Unfortunately, however, these references to health, social inclusion, poverty and education are not part of coherent and ambitious strategies for Member States. They appear as just passing mentions in recommendations that give priority to the need for Member States to correct excessive deficits. And it is the orthodox fiscal policy that dominates this direction, not always even looking at the full picture of societal and economic development. Unfortunately, young people will still have to wait to see their aspirations for an inclusive and non-discriminatory society taken on board at the European level and for the social dimension of economic policies to be properly valued.