What can Europe do for young people?

By Bart Staes (Belgian MEP for Greens/EFA), translated by Mathieu Soete
Original publication: Knack, 09-05-2013

Almost a quarter of the European young people are unemployed. In Greece and Spain more than half of the young people are without a job and also our country is not far behind.

While we are busy saving the euro, we are losing the Europeans. Most of the European youth are definitely not anti-Europeans, but their discontent is growing each day. Anxious young people are not dreaming of institutional changes and a United States of Europe. What they want is for Europe to form a buffer against the incomprehensible power of the supermarkets, and not to be a mere neoliberal project of market and currency, propelled by mere technocrats, lobbyists, and big industry associations.

Tax evasion, tax havens, and the fight against fraud and mismanagement really must be tackled. Taxation on labour must be shifted to taxation on capital. Corporate tax must be harmonised at the European level and the European budget must be directed to where it is most needed.

Next to the current austerity measures, social and ecological measures must be put into place.

Several plans are on the drawing board and some, like the Youth Guarantee are in implementation mode. This scheme of a learning-working guarantee assures that within four months of leaving school, every young person will have a job, can follow further adapted training or will be actively guided. The 7.5 million young people in Europe today without a job or training can in this way regain some perspective.

In the reigning and very narrow-minded social and political discourse, also at the European level, everything is at the moment being expressed in economic terms. As if all the rest is without value. In this logic the numerous unemployed youth have no value, they only generate costs.

It must be changed!

We need recognition that things like time, natural wealth, and creativity also have an intrinsic value. To validate these can engender a much more inclusive society in which also oft-forgotten groups of people can partake. In such a system, young people can take their life and future into their own hands and no longer need to watch idly. It would make our society less dependent on ‘money’ and purely material wealth and financial institutions would lose their monopoly on the creation of value.

Utopian and unrealistic? Not at all. Numerous examples such as TimeDollars, LETS, CSA, and Toreks illustrate this. These alternatives even offer possible solutions to ageing populations and climate change. A general, open policy on this would best be regulated at the European level to avoid competition between member states and to give the project sufficient credibility towards the rest of the world.

Another aspect deals with the transition from large-scale to small-scale, but with a European approach. Power to the people. One of the characteristics of the current crisis is the paralysing feeling of impotence. Local communities and short supply chains constitute a more easily comprehensible level at which one can have an impact. Europe could then support and coordinate the local level. This coordination combines two of the biggest strengths of Europe at present: on the one hand the endless diversity of local circumstances and situations in the EU and on the other hand the current era of communications. Combine these two and you get a situation in which we, next to economic solidarity, also assure a ‘knowledge and social solidarity’ whereby the different communities within Europe can learn from each other. Projects like Erasmus have a strong and positive impact on this by creating a platform for solidarity at the grassroots level.

Young people are shouting that we can no longer continue like this, and they are prepared to do something about this. The least European policy-makers could do, is to actively support and guide these young people. I will gladly cooperate with this!

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