Unanswered questions for Europe’s youth in President Juncker’s State of Union

jean-claude-juncker-state-of-the-union-2016

State of the Union Speech by Jean-Claude Juncker, at the podium, in the presence of Martin Schulz, on the right in the background. © European Union , 2016 / Source: EC – Audiovisual Service.

Whilst highlighting the plight of young people in his State of the Union speech, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker left many questions unanswered after his welcome statement that he cannot accept Europe as the continent of youth unemployment. His good words are at odds with the subsequent announcement of an effective cut in funding of more than three-quarters[1] in the Youth Guarantee as compared to 2014-2016 funding. Without the political will and funding to effectively implement the Youth Guarantee, youth unemployment will continue in Europe. Similarly, more details are needed on the newly announced European Solidarity Corps which must support, not replace or just rehash the good work already being carried out by young people and youth organisations.

 It is extremely disappointing that at very difficult times for Europe, and especially its young people, the European Commission’s answer does not match the promise of Juncker’s speech, by implementing an effective cut in Youth Employment Initiative funding: from €6 billion over 2014-2016 to €2 billion for the next four years. The Youth Forum calls on the European Parliement and the Council to ensure at least the same amount of funding as there is currently for the Youth Employment Initiative for 2017-2020.

The Youth Guarantee has its faults but Member States are gradually improving their implementation and millions of young people have directly benefitted with a job, a training or an apprenticeship.

European Youth Forum studies have shown that only 1.8% of the EU budget directly targets young people. However, young people are the group most at risk of poverty and social exclusion across the EU. With youth unemployment at 18.8% in July 2016, the European Youth Forum therefore questions the European Commission’s commitment to “put its money where its mouth is”. Given the doubling of the funds for the Investment Plan, we expect to see a proportion of this money invested in youth and in young entrepreneurs. We also call for a more coherent and concrete approach to implementing Juncker’s call for “a more social Europe”, through for example anti-discrimination legislation.

Young people, especially the millions that are part of youth organisations, have already been at the forefront of actions to support refugees and those in need. The new proposed European Solidarity Corps of young volunteers must support and not replace or reinvent these ongoing efforts. Volunteering must be of good quality and make a genuine contribution to developing young people’s skills, as well as helping those in need, but it must not replace jobs with unpaid work.

Johanna Nyman, President of the European Youth Forum, comments:

“Europe is on a cliff edge: decisions made now impact all of our futures, but especially young people’s. Whilst we welcome President Juncker’s concern for youth, we are past the time for nice words, which is what he offered us this morning. What we need is answers, detail and real, new investment in young people. If he wants to empower citizens, Jean Claude Juncker must include us and create a real dialogue with young people about our future. We call on Member States and the European Parliament to continue existing levels of funding for the Youth Guarantee. European leaders must now, in this week’s summit in Bratislava, show their comitment to youth and invest in us in order to release the huge potential that we have. We look forward to hearing what importance they place on all of our futures.”

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