The current economic crisis has left an indelible scar on the European psyche. The perception that was constructed in the aftermath of the Second World War, which assumed that we were going to leave this world in a better state than the one in which we entered, is long gone. This is especially true with our younger generations. For the first time, since the 1970’s the prospects of new university students are worse than those of their parents.
Our younger generation has in fact been the one that has been hit the hardest by this crisis. The levels of youth unemployment in Europe have reached shocking and unprecedented levels. One would, in fact, associate such high levels of unemployment with a despotic government, not with the established democracies found in the European Union.
Even more worrying than the unemployment rate, is the nature of the said unemployment. Most of our unemployed youths are in fact suffering from long term unemployment, whilst those who are in employment are increasingly being employed in various forms of precarious work which does not enable them to pursue their desired careers. No wonder therefore, that we now speaking of a lost generation of youths.
This must not be. A so called lost generation of young people would be detrimental to our long-term economic prosperity as well as for the social fabric of our society. They are our future, and if we do not build on strong foundations , we will not be doing as disservice to society. We are in fact seeing, an ever increasing disenchantment with politics and with ideas which have served us very well over the last decades, such as the European project.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing in this whole scenario is that we know what the solutions for this crisis, are – the creation of jobs . Unfortunately, the crisis has been high-jacked by a neo-classical view of the economy which has put excessive emphasis – some would almost say obsessive- on austerity.
The European Parliament, and in particular the group I belong to – Socialists and Democrats – has always been very critical of this fixation on the concept of austerity measures. Our belief has always been that the dignity and well being of the person has to be the do and end all of all our political decisions. We cannot be taking decisions based solely on figures and economical equations wihtout taking also into consideration the human factor and social impact.
The fight against youth unemployment has now gone to another level. Currently in Brussels, the Council is negotiating with the European Parliament the next European budget. For the very first time, the European Parliament has a power to actually approve or reject the budget. There are still serious divergences between the two mighty institutions, but I am confident that a mutually acceptable consensus will be found. At least I hope so!
In my opinion and that of our delegation, this European budget does not go nearly far enough in tackling the problems of European unemployment. Earlier this week, S & D President Hannes Swoboda expressed his disappointment that the Council had once again refused to allocate more funds to the fight against youth unemployment and towards the implementation of growth friendly projects. We are asking for a fair and balanced deal which reflects not only the ambitions of the European Union ,but more importantly, takes care of the needs of the people that we represent.
Malta has been lucky enough to avoid the brunt of this economic crisis. However, to assume that we have been completely spared would be foolish to say the least. The unemployment levels amongst youths in Malta stand around 15% which is almost the double of the general rate in Malta. What is worse is, that the majority of the young people in such situations are unemployed for long periods with very little prospect of finding a job, mainly but not exclusively , because they don’t have the necessary skills and flexibility to strive in today´s job market.
The road ahead of us is not an easy one. No solution will bring about immediate effects. However, it is only by pushing forward with this agenda for growth and employment in Europe that we can ensure that this lost generation might eventually find itself. It is our responsibility to ensure that this happens.