THE MODEL EUROPEAN UNION CONFERENCE
The Model European Union Conference is a simulation of EU affairs that takes place across Europe during the course of a year and is hosted by a variety of venues. One of the most prestigious such conferences takes place in Strasbourg every spring and is hosted by the European Parliament. MEU Strasbourg along with MEU Warsaw and MEU Mainz are organized by BETA (Bringing Europeans Together Association), and I had the honour of being invited this year as both a journalist and an editor.
We took the roles we were assigned very seriously, while having an interesting and fun time as well. It was fascinating to see young people from all walks of life and from all parts of Europe, with so much experience, which would bewilder much older people. We were given the chance to solve real problems that concern us and the world we live in. Politicians should take note of the fresh ideas proposed by our young, involved and energetic participants and this includes MEPs, Ministers, Lobbyists, Interpreters and Journalists. Therefore, whenever something unexpected came up and disturbed the agreed upon protocol it is in fact where we shone as participants and young Europeans. Through maturity beyond our age and an ever flowing exchange of intellectual and fresh ideas we managed to solve our differences on a daily basis and showed real life professionals how things should be done.
Nevertheless, during the course of the conference many different disagreements arose between the MEPs themselves, between the Council and indeed the Press Team. What made the entire experience so electric, was not only the backdrop of our event, but rather the sincere dedication of young Europeans, which truly filled the shoes they were pretending to wear. We argued on amendments and statements, votes and vetoes, and all 200 of us took charge in making Europe a better place, even if it was just for a week.
THE EUROPEAN SOCIAL FUND
Every MEU conference discusses two pressing current proposals and the debates that follow. In Strasbourg, one of the proposals that was discussed, amended and voted on was The European Social Fund.
These are some of the many statements which came up in the discussions and which are deeply embedded into the minds of European youth today:
“Youth unemployment and austerity measures imposed by the EU go hand in hand”.
“The Youth Employment Initiative is a PR stunt”.
“The EU is using the YEI and the Proposal to whip votes for the upcoming European Parliament elections”
Some 25% of that same European youth is unemployed and continues to be so. Over the last 2 years the European Union has proposed a series of initiatives devised specifically to combat the catastrophically high numbers of youth unemployment. We had the Youth Opportunities Initiative Resolution adopted in May 2012, the Youth Guarantee on the 5th March 2013, as well as the introduction of the Youth Employment Initiative on the 12th March 2013.
The most prominent one is of course the Youth Guarantee which “seeks to ensure that Member States offer all young people up to age 25 a quality job, continued education, an apprenticeship, or a traineeship, within four months of leaving formal education or becoming unemployed”. In order for this scheme to succeed it has become apparent that no single institution can go it alone. Above all else, a combined effort of EU institutions, NGOs and public employment services is of the essence, in order to successfully combat youth unemployment.
Apart from decreasing youth unemployment numbers, the whole package aims at avoiding the current process of the “brain drain” from South to North. It has been said that an estimated cost of 21 billion euros is required in order for the scheme to blossom. Although this sounds like a high amount, one should take into consideration that having such high rates of unemployment, coupled with lost productivity, costs the EU 153 billion euros each year.
One example of a success story comes from Finland where a Youth Guarantee has been adopted in its entirety. According to a Eurofound evaluation in 2011, 83.5% of registered unemployed youths received successful offers within 3 months. Finland’s current youth unemployment rate stands at 18,2%. Similarly enough, Austria has undertaken special measures to make sure public employment services are accessible to the youth. Providing tailored services for young people at risk of long term unemployment and social exclusion has formed the backbone of early labour market activation measures for young people and is one of the reasons Austria has the lowest youth unemployment rates in Europe (8,7%). Other countries with a form of the Youth Guarantee also include Sweden, with a youth unemployment rate at 23,2%, and Denmark, with a youth unemployment rate at 14,7%.
However, having only 4 member states out of 28 including a Youth Guarantee in their youth related policies doesn't do much for the rest of Europe, which is suffering youth unemployment rates sometimes as high as triple that of Austria, Denmark or Sweden. The countries suffering most from elevated youth unemployment rates are Greece (54.3%), Spain (52.4%), Portugal (37.4%) and Italy (34.2%).
We are once again back to square one with very few countries in the Union experiencing a lowering of youth unemployment rates, while the majority experience extremely high rates and a vast number of proposals and initiatives that cannot be implemented successfully due to institutional and structural domestic barriers.
SO WHAT CAN BE DONE?
What we are left with is a mixture of overqualified, or alternatively - uneducated, young Europeans while at the same time there are still 4 million job vacancies across the European Union.
Young people are catalysts for the future and instead of open doors and opportunities awaiting them upon graduation, those same doors are being slammed in their faces. Political apathy, paranoia and overall distrust of political institutions have never been higher. Not to mention the popularization of far-right ideologies.
The EU can save the “lost generation” but it will require effort, renovation of particular public policies in the member states and an attitude adjustment overall. However we need to include the “lost generation” in the process. Only we can solve the problems that face us. We need to stop coming up with scapegoats when faced with problems, we need to stop referring to the past and start looking forward. Admittedly, some aspects of the initiatives and guarantees can be labelled as idealistic, however, the process of solving one of the biggest current issues of the European Union has to start from somewhere. The European Union will have to become more approachable and accessible if they want to raise awareness of their Youth Unemployment Agenda by collaborating with representatives of member states in order to make sure implementation is imminent, or at least on its way. Collective responsibility combined with sustainable and most importantly realistic solutions are of the essence in order to make democratic and civic progress.