The young generation needs an idea of Europe
Welcome 2022 – welcome European Year of Youth. In the special circumstances of COVID-19, the European Union has pledged to dedicate 2022 to the future and take up the challenges that the young generation is facing. To name some: who has never heard about youth unemployment – on the rise again in Italy since the pandemic – the disappointment of the young generation with the handling of climate change or their alienation from current politics? The panel of the Conference on the Future of Europe, held in Florence only a month ago, specifically underlined the European nature of these challenges. Indeed, most of them relate to shared challenges that EU Member States are not able to resolve alone. It would indeed seem to be a good time for the EU to come up with an idea of Europe for its younger generation.
Some promising ideas are on the table for the EU to develop a vision for the youth. The European Years, existing since 1983, are an occasion for political and legislative signals. The European Parliament has recently called to regulate unpaid internships on the level of the EU, an issue largely unresolved in most Member States that endangers the integration of young people into the labour market. The European Commission, on its side, proposes a new mobility scheme, called ALMA, that allows young workers to acquire a temporary work experience in another Member State. While ALMA could broaden the access to mobility in the EU as it targets young, disadvantaged persons, the proposal does not provide safeguards to ensure the quality of the work experiences of ALMA’s participants. Besides such measures of youth employment policy, the EU has also called for improving the participation of young people in its decision-making. However, do such partial initiatives constitute a true and consistent idea for the younger generation?
One can also question whether these initiatives help the EU to address the concerns of young people – despite the fact that their concerns are often European in nature. A local example of youth participation illustrates this point. While awareness of their existence must be improved, quite a number of initiatives try to give young people a voice in the EU here in Tuscany. Just last year, initiatives such as EU Talks, an opportunity for students to discuss the future of the EU, European Dialogue: Let’s take a coffee! or Non Solo Erasmus – Facciamoci sentire in Europa were organised in Florence alone, and there are many more! However, these initiatives rely far too often on the personal commitment of their organisers, while young people still find it difficult to ‘get in touch with the EU’. We need the EU to provide more information about its activities and more support for initiatives of participation to make a success out of this European Year of Youth. If youth issues transcend national borders, all young people need to have a say on European politics.
Similarly, the EU’s approach to youth unemployment is also lacking a compelling element, despite the transnational nature of the issue. While the EU has developed a European Youth Guarantee – non-binding guidelines for Member States to help young people find employment – and provides funding for national projects to increase youth employment through the recovery fund, it has not developed a convincing way of tackling the issues associated with young workers.
One might question why we need even more Europe for youth. It is a legitimate question, but the answer is simple. My argument is that the young generation needs to have a clear idea of Europe. This idea of Europe can help structure and promote existing EU activities regarding the young generation and, thereby, complement similar national measures. In the end, many of the concerns of the young generation indeed regard cross-border issues. I believe we should also acknowledge that the EU is an important actor in shaping the prospects of young people. This would notably raise awareness for the EU’s role in youth policy in face of its current neglect in both scholarship and public discourse. What matters during this European Year of Youth is to show that the EU needs to be more than just the Erasmus programme, proving it can develop a clear and coherent vision for the young generation.
Marc Steiert is a PhD researcher in Law at the European University Institute whose work focuses on the EU’s youth policy.
This publication is based on a commentary published in La Repubblica on 14 January 2021.