The European Union matters to young people

Whatever the topic, whether it’s employment, education, security, or the environment, more Europe and closer co-operation is the answer. This is, in short, the conclusion of a survey amongst more than 4,500 young Europeans between 16 and 25 years of age, from across 31 countries.

The survey was conducted in the last quarter of 2017 as part of the “Why Europe Matters” project — an initiative by JA Europe, Europe’s largest provider of education programs for entrepreneurship, work readiness, and financial literacy, and the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT), a forum of around 50 CEOs and chairmen of Europe’s largest companies. Besides the survey, nine national workshops were organized throughout Europe, in which young people developed ideas on what they consider important for the future of the European Union.

“It is vital to understand the hopes and expectations of young people to further advance and improve the European project,” Brian Ager, secretary general at ERT

Brian Ager, secretary general at ERT | via Søren Zeuth

“We need to understand the hopes and expectations of young people, to further advance and improve the European project,” said Brian Ager, ERT’s secretary general. Over the last decade, the European project has been put under strain; with the financial crisis and increasing inequality, migration and terrorism taking their toll on the EU’s image. Only a European Union 2.0, supported by its citizens, can cope with today’s global challenges. To say it in the words of a German student: “Europe means team spirit, solidarity and freedom — the chance to travel, live and work anywhere in Europe.”

The top three concerns of the young respondents are quite straightforward and rather independent of age, gender, migratory status, or place of living (rural vs. urban). First, quality education, second security and terrorism, and third, youth employment. The same priorities also came up as key concerns at the national workshops. When asked about solutions, a Portuguese team suggested the establishment of European skills centers. Business and educators should work closely to bridge the skills gap. In France, students had the idea to offer career orientation opportunities at a young age; for example, by creating internships or apprenticeships across Europe as part of the school program.

“Interestingly, independent from this project, ERT Member companies’ directors for human resources referred to youth employment and skills development as the main areas where business helps tackling social inequality,” added Brian Ager, the ERT secretary general. European companies also see a need for dialogue and partnership between youth, education, and business to define skills needs, in particular in the digital field. Introducing quality apprenticeships embedded in the school curricula is indeed a way to bridge the world of education and work. The European Commission is convinced, but dedication and involvement on a local level is required to make it work.

“We need more entrepreneurs and new growing businesses in Europe and these, in turn, need skilled and enterprising employees,” Caroline Jenner, CEO at JA Europe

Caroline Jenner, CEO at JA Europe | via JA Europe

Entrepreneurship — streamlined throughout all levels of education makes young people more optimistic about Europe. The survey revealed that young people with experience of entrepreneurship education are more familiar with EU issues and more likely to discuss them with their families. They are opportunistic and less risk averse. Caroline Jenner, CEO at JA Europe cannot agree more: “We need more entrepreneurs and new growing businesses in Europe and these, in turn, need skilled and enterprising employees. We also need to hear what young people think about Europe and what they want it to become. It’s their ideas that will sustain it in the future.”

At the national workshops, the young people were not focusing on the issue of security as such, but thought about innovative ideas for the integration of refugees and disabled people in society. A Hungarian team wanted awareness classes on diversity in the curriculum. Three Spanish teams put forward proposals to improve the social integration of refugees. The Dutch suggested a pan-European organization placing refugees in the country best suited to their profile, knowledge and career plans. And the Greeks thought that unused Erasmus Plus funds could provide accommodation for refugee students.

Young people tend to be international-minded: they want to study (87 percent) and work abroad (85 percent), and they see the European Union as a factor of stability in Europe (86 percent). Even long after World War II, still 86 percent of the respondents consider peace (i.e. no major conflicts between EU member countries), as a very important benefit of the EU.

At the same time, young people are concerned about what the future will bring. Most respondents agree that it will be harder to find a job in 2030 (44 percent agree vs. 22 percent disagree). Young people also miss information about the EU in their school (67 percent) and feel excluded from EU decision making: 81 percent said they have no voice when voting in EU elections or did not know whether they have a voice or not.

The national workshops confirmed the disconnection between EU initiatives and youth. For example, young people seem to lack awareness of existing European tools and initiatives to tackle youth employment. Several national teams suggested schemes, such as Erasmus Plus (offering mobility in education and internships), Euronews (the pan-European TV channel), and Droppin’ (an EU platform linking companies and young people looking for jobs or internships), without knowing that they actually already exist.

“Why Europe Matters” continues. On March 21 about 35 students from nine European countries pitched their ideas on the future of Europe to a panel of leaders from politics and business. Members of the European Parliament, ministers, EU commissioners and CEOs will have a constructive exchange with young people to come to concrete ideas to move Europe forward. Indeed, Europe’s youth remains the EU’s greatest source of inspiration and opportunity; the very foundations of the Treaty of Rome and the Single Market, established 25 years ago. Only by engaging with the visions, concerns, and ideas of young people can Europe overcome its challenges and renew its confidence.

Politico.eu

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