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
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

£13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Content Leader

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This role requires a high level...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent