Youth unemployment in the EU: an ongoing pandemic?

This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.
Youth unemployment in the EU: an ongoing pandemic?

Youth unemployment constitutes one of the greatest social challenges in the European Union.

Following the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in 2008, the unemployment rates of the youth in the EU reached an unprecedented high of 25.10% in January 2013, higher than the rates of general unemployment in the EU. Ever since, the EU has launched a series of key actions in order to tackle this issue, such as the Youth Guarantee, initiated in 2013.

According to the EU, the Youth Guarantee has had a ‘major transformative effect’ over the years. Undoubtedly, the rates in Europe have decreased dramatically in the past years, even after the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, the numbers are still lower than they were in the post GFC period, with the lowest rate being 6.3% in Czech Republic and 6.6% in Germany (September 2021).

However, we cannot neglect the fact that youth unemployment is still soaring in Southern European countries, 30.6% in Spain, and 24.5% in Greece (September 2021). So how can the Commission talk about positive results when such a disproportionate chasm between member states exists?

One of the biggest concerns of the EU should be the NEET group (‘not in employment, education or training’). The NEET constitutes the most vulnerable group of youth unemployment, as it is usually socially excluded, and in most cases, there is not only a need for vocational training and education, but also for psychological support.

These are the areas where some of the member states usually fall short, and where they actually need more support at the EU-level. The actions that the EU will take now are of the utmost importance as the aftereffects of the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to unravel in the years to come, and threaten to lead us back to a period that remind us of the one that followed the GFC.

In order to deal with the crisis, the EU presented in 2020 the Youth Employment Support package and a new Reinforced version of the Youth Guarantee that promises to be more inclusive, involving additional support for the young people belonging to the NEET groups. Regarding its implementation, the Commission advises the member states to spend at least €22 billion on youth unemployment support.

The updated initiative looks quite promising, and it definitely acknowledges some of the main issues concerning youth unemployment. At the same time, we cannot refrain from asking if this agenda proposed by the Commission is too ambitious? After looking again at the aforementioned numbers of Southern Europe, can we really anticipate that this time the divergence between the member states will be reduced? Is it maybe time to also consider alternative solutions?

What really is essential is the youth unemployment issue to become a priority. It needs to be on the top of the policies of all member states and its implementation should be better monitored.

Youth unemployment is a crisis that affects the whole EU, but also that challenges its future, so it could be more effective if it is dealt as a collective matter. Does this entail that more power should be transferred at the EU-level? Maybe. If some of the member states are more willing or financially capable than others to implement to the fullest the initiatives proposed by the EU, why not also think of creating a supranational body that could potentially implement a more comprehensive monitoring system, or would put inclusion and employment of the youth as its primary priority. Improved cooperation could be the key here.

As a new period of implementation has commenced, let it be also a time to reflect on the place of the younger generations in the EU. The EU has the obligation to represent a place of transparency and of fresh voices, this entails not forgetting to include the youth in the process. Closer cooperation and more drastic measures should be adopted collectively by the member states, as well as acknowledging concerns and ideas of the younger generations, after all it is their future that is being questioned.

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