A lost generation: Europe's unemployed youths face years trapped in a downward spiral of poverty and exclusion

EU heads of state have put the issue at the top of their agenda

Brussels

Each of Europe’s 5.6 million unemployed youths has a different story to tell. Some are university educated and vastly over-qualified for the jobs they are seeking. Others left school early to cash in on the boom times, only to lose everything when the crash came.

Heads of state from the EU holding talks in Brussels today and tomorrow have put youth unemployment at the top of the agenda, as figures hit an all-time high. In April, nearly a quarter of people under 25 looking for work in the EU were unemployed. In Greece, it is more than 60 per cent; in Spain, 56 per cent.

Unless the bleak figures are reversed soon, experts warn of a “lost generation” trapped in a spiral of poverty and exclusion. This could lead to deepening social unrest, political extremism, and the possibility that policies meant to bind Europe through monetary union could tear it apart.

“A generation that is growing up unemployed, what will be its stance towards Europe, towards European solidarity?” asked Nils Muižnieks, Human Rights Commissioner for the Council of Europe, an independent rights watchdog. “I have a feeling this will not be the most Europe-orientated generation, and that’s the price we will pay for neglecting this issue.”

Overall 11 per cent of the EU workforce is unemployed, as the ongoing recession and austerity measures cause businesses to shut down. The young are hit hard, as retiring workers are not replaced and they are often the first to be laid off.

At the heart of the debate is what the EU leaders can actually achieve when the continent remains mired in recession. László Andor, the EU Commissioner for employment, social affairs and inclusion, said richer nations should help poorer ones recover. “There is clearly a need for more solidarity in the EU – the young generation needs and deserves it,” he told The Independent ahead of the summit.

But the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, made clear that she was not in favour of increasing funding. “The German government insists that the problems [of] Europe and the eurozone have to be tackled at the root and solved step by step,” she told the German parliament.

An early draft of the conclusions from the summit calls for accelerating the implementation of a scheme to ensure young people have access to education or training within four months of losing a job or leaving school. It also advocates labour market reform and policies to help people to move country to find work. About €6bn from the next budget is also expected to be mobilised for schemes to tackle youth unemployment.

Previous pledges have come and gone, however, and unemployment figures continue to rise.

“We have to resolve the underlying financial crisis and return to sustainable growth,” said Mr Andor. “Without this, all actions simply provide temporary relief.”

While there are signs that some countries are edging towards recovery, growth figures across much of Europe continue to be disappointing.

Hopelessness takes hold, and there are already signs of what despair and alienation can bring. In Greece, neo-Nazi extremists have record support. The riots in Sweden earlier this year were partly blamed on miserable job prospects for the young. Independence movements are thriving, and many young people fed up with mainstream politics are turning to smaller protest parties.

“If there is a crisis, people may start to distrust their national leaders and turn to the EU for solutions. But, after a while, confidence in the EU may also decline,” said Mr Andor. “We are in this second phase now. The response is partly about better communication, but more importantly the policies have to be more convincing too.”

Many economists and social activists, however, feel it is the very policies being prescribed by the EU and International Monetary Fund to kick-start growth that are causing the pain.

“From the European Council we expect EU leaders to move beyond austerity and to stimulate new growth and jobs,” said Patrick Itschert, deputy general secretary of the ETUC trade union. “European leaders need the political courage to recognise the mistakes made in recent years and correct their course.”

***

After months of negotiations, officials from the European Parliament and European Union member states yesterday agreed a pared down budget for the next seven years. The $960bn budget for 2014-2020 marks the first spending cuts in the EU’s history, and was hashed out at a summit in February, when David Cameron and others fought to slash spending. However the parliament refused to ratify the budget, arguing for more flexibility to increase spending if economies picked up, the ability to reallocate funds not spent, and a boost in funding to tackle unemployment.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?