EU stability threatened by neglect of youth
A 22-year-old student last week set himself on fire in front of his university in the southeastern French city of Lyon. In a Facebook post ahead of the act, the student said he no longer had the strength to face the challenges of earning enough money to live while also pursuing his studies. He said that, even when he received a scholarship of €450 ($495) a month, it had been a challenge. But, since funding ended, it was impossible for him to manage on his own. He blamed the French government for his situation and for failing students in particular and the youth in general. His girlfriend also accused the university and state authorities of having failed to provide timely financial aid.
This dramatic act by the Lyonnaise student has brought the focus of the country back to one of its biggest challenges — the youth. Indeed, the fate of the young is a question that poses an equally severe challenge across the entire EU, where being young today offers some opportunities, but many more challenges.
The EU faces a double challenge vis-a-vis its youth. First and foremost are the dire straits in which young people across the continent find themselves. With state funding for education, health care and social services dropping across the bloc, millennials frequently find themselves struggling for the basic facilities their parents and grandparents took for granted. For instance, access to a reasonably good school without any fees, heavily discounted housing or hostels, and comprehensive medical and social coverage allowed the older generations to have access to leisure activities like vacations, theaters, cinema and, of course, local transportation.
Over the years, but mainly since the financial meltdown of 2008, the young are finding most of these amenities either severely reduced or totally withdrawn. Today, many collegegoers and their families are struggling to meet the basic costs of education.
Not only are the young struggling to get a proper education, but many of them find that, even after having completed their education and armed with their degrees, access to jobs markets remains extremely limited. For more than a decade now, almost without exception across the entire EU, the unemployment rate among the youth is double that of the general population. This is true not only of countries like Greece and Spain that were hit hardest by the financial meltdown, but also of economies such as Germany and Czechia, which escaped the crisis with relatively little damage. According to Eurostat, the statistical agency of the EU, in September the lowest rates of general unemployment were recorded in Czechia (2.1 percent) and Germany (3.1 percent), while Greece (16.9 percent in July) and Spain (14.2 percent) topped the list. Meanwhile, the youth unemployment rate in Czechia was 4.4 percent, Germany 5.9 percent, Spain 32.8 percent and Greece 33.2 percent.
Persistent and chronically high unemployment rates, as well as the lack of any clarity over the future, has made the youth in Europe especially troubled and troublesome. What makes it perhaps worse for the youth is that none of the pillars of society that they look to for support and succor are really focused on solving their problems, or are even being seen to be making the effort. For the past few years, governments across the EU have been focused on external shocks like massive migration and terrorism, with the added burden of Brexit uncertainty, making the youth feel entirely neglected and uncared for. Businesses — the future employers of the students — have been focused on issues like shareholder returns or trade wars rather than job creation and investment, which could offer sparks of hope for the jobless in the region.
This has led to numerous protests, often violent, across the EU as an angry youth tries to attract the attention of government and businesses. The very high level of participation by the young in the infamous “Yellow Vest” demonstrations that rocked and almost derailed French President Emmanuel Macron’s mandate last year is just one example of the disaffection they feel.
Chronically high unemployment rates, as well as the lack of any clarity over the future, has made the youth in Europe especially troubled and troublesome.
Ranvir S. Nayar
The other and perhaps more significant aspect of youth anger and misery is that they are quitting their villages and towns, and even their countries, in their hordes in the hope of finding better opportunities elsewhere. This is leading to the severe depopulation of vast swaths of Europe. No longer is this true just of Greece or Italy — but even Poland, the most robust European economy for about a decade, and Germany, the motor of the EU’s economy, are facing large-scale migrations, beyond the national border in Poland’s case, while German youths are leaving their villages and towns in the east to migrate to more vibrant parts of the country, such as Berlin, Munich or Hamburg.
Faced with a rapidly aging population, the EU — or at least very large sections of it — can hardly afford to see their youth leave in significant numbers. If not urgently slowed and even reversed in many countries, this migration could seriously undermine these nations’ economies and societies. If nothing else moves them, this very real and current threat to peace and stability should get the bureaucrats and company bosses across Europe moving to provide hope and succor to their youth, who are their own future.
- Ranvir S. Nayar is the editor of Media India Group, a global platform based in Europe and India that encompasses publishing, communication and consultation services.