Despite being the most affected group by the coronavirus-induced crisis, young Europeans feel increasingly left out from the plans for post-pandemic recovery. Experts call for targeted measures to support them and ensure a quick implementation of the EU’s Youth Guarantee at the national level.
On 1 March 2017, in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum, the European Commission presented its white paper on the future of Europe. Its 31 pages included a sober but clear warning about the risk of failure of the European project.
“For the first time since the Second World War, there is a real risk that the generation of today’s young adults ends up less well-off than their parents. Europe cannot afford to lose the most educated age group it has ever had and let generational inequality condemn its future,” the document said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened the prospects for millennials and the later generations.
Neither vulnerable in terms of health risks, nor a priority from the economic side, young people in Europe are being sidelined again in the midst of the worst crisis in almost a century, according to the sources consulted for this story.,
“It is correct that, from a health perspective, we prioritise vulnerable groups, but in this crisis, there is a lack of focus on young people,” said Kira Peter-Hansen, the youngest MEP in the European Parliament.
“During big crises, we always focus on the middle class and big companies, and now we are doing the same, neglecting young people,” she added.
The damage will be devastating for a generation that has yet to recover from the aftershocks of the great recession of the previous decade.
“We are facing a grim outlook, the consequences of which are still unknown in many cases, both in scope and depth,” Spain’s director of the Youth Institute, María Teresa Pérez, said in the ‘Youth in Spain 2020’ report, published this month.
The document confirmed the cumulative effect of the “lost decade” for young people in Spain, one of the most affected countries by the previous crisis and the pandemic. One in three young people was psychologically affected by covid-19 and the containment measures.
The gap between opportunities and expectations is widening as conditions are increasingly precarious and the long-awaited independence is delayed.
Almost 40% of young Spaniards consider it little likely or unlikely to find a job next year, and the perspective of leaving their parents’ place has fallen by 15 points.
According to Alfred Kammer, director of the European department at the International Monetary Fund, young people will suffer “greater economic losses” in this crisis, since it is more likely that they will be in temporary contracts, in sectors most affected by the restrictions, without savings or assets to weather the storm.
Youth unemployment stands above 17% in the EU, more than double compared with the general unemployment rate.
Moreover, the problems they are facing now will have a long-term impact on their salaries and careers, and many will end up accepting lower-paid jobs, warned Kammer.
Maria Demertzis; deputy director of Bruegel think-tank, said that “as epidemiological indicators improve and more targeted economic measures are adopted, due to the increase in public debt, the number one priority should be youth employment, because it is the most vulnerable group”.
Warnings about the disproportionate impact on youth in terms of education, employment, mental health or income have come from the World Health Organisation or the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
“Moreover, while youth and future generations will shoulder much of the long-term economic and social consequences of the crisis, their well-being may be superseded by short-term economic and equity considerations,” noted the OECD.
The EU response focused on strengthening the Youth Guarantee last July. This instrument aims to ensure that all young people under the age of 30 will receive an offer of employment, continued education, apprenticeship or traineeship within four months after losing their job or finishing their formal education.
The Commission offered € 22 billion to the member states to invest in young people between 2021 and 2027, around € 116 million per country each year.
Former Commissioner for Employment, Laszlo Andor, who launched the Youth Guarantee in 2013 in the aftermath of the previous crisis, welcomed the reinforcement of the guarantee, as well as the launch of the SURE mechanism to support workers in Europe, but also noted a “generational inequality” in the response given across the bloc.
The Commission can provide resources and guidance, but member states are responsible for finding solutions for their labour markets.
“The EU can offer money, but if national employment services are not well prepared, we won’t see a quick impact of the Youth Guarantee, and there are reasons to be concerned with the capacity at local level,” Andor explained.
Although the EU recovery fund was conceived as an intergenerational pact, with reforms and investments that will benefit those who will pay the bill tomorrow, the generational perspective is missing in the policy and political debate when the EU is discussing targeted measures for hard-hit groups and sectors.
The Commissioner for Economy, Paolo Gentiloni, said that “it is difficult now to asses if member states are doing enough”.
But on the front line, the verdict is clear. “Do you believe that we, young people, will be able to say in the future that we will live better off than our parents?” said Marta Santiago, a surgeon and researcher at Ramón y Cajal Hospital in Madrid, and member of the ‘Global Shapers’ Community of the World Economic Forum. “We feel that we have been totally forgotten”.
She called for cross-cutting policies, combining education, labour market, and health initiatives, because “medical conditions of anxiety and depression have increased exponentially.”
As Brussels is getting ready to launch in May its ‘Conference on the Future of Europe’, Santiago warned that “the germ of political disaffection and the rise of extremism are born when a generation feels that it has no future.”