Has the Problem of Youth Unemployment Become a Secondary Issue?

The second week of September was chosen by the European Commission as the European Week of Sport a new initiative aimed at promoting healthier lifestyle and regular exercise.

While pioneered by the European Commission, the European Week of Sport was largely about local grassroots initiatives across the EU. One of such initiatives was our Run for Employment.

Run for Employment took place in Brussels on 13 September and its aim was to highlight the link between sport and employment.

Europe is still ravaged by high levels of unemployment and those without a job face an increased risk of mental health problems. Physical activity has undoubtedly a positive impact on mental health and wellbeing and sport is therefore one “weapon” to fight the negative ramifications of Europe’s youth unemployment crisis.

It is against this backdrop that 11 teams met in Brussels Parc Leopold two weeks ago to become part of a sporting event that offered a positive response to youth unemployment a problem that continues to pose a serious threat to a sustainable development of Europe into the future.

Yet, on the face of it, it seems that the issue of youth unemployment has disappeared from our public discourse.

This perception is also supported by the recent and highly anticipated State of the Union speech of the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker delivered on 9 September in the Plenary of the European Parliament.

In a speech that lasted for over an hour (77 minutes to be precise) and one that contained almost 10,000 words there was no specific reference to youth unemployment as such and only a brief mention of the problem of unemployment in general.

Of course, in the age of soundbite driven media and at the time when Europe’s attention is dominated by the humanitarian and refugee crisis on its doorstep as well as within it, it is understandable that not all issues can be given the same prominence.

However, while the situation is slowly improving, the levels of youth unemployment remain excessively high. Some 7.5 million Europeans under 25 are neither employed nor in education or training.

Youth unemployment should therefore feature high on the list of the EU’s and national governments priorities. And it is not as if the European Commission has done nothing in this regard. It has a track record, albeit limited, that it can build on.

Among other things and as part of the EU’s response to joblessness the EU has introduced the Youth Employment Package which includes measures such as the so called Youth Guarantee scheme designed to ensure that “all young people under 25 get a good-quality, concrete offer within 4 months of them leaving formal education or becoming unemployed”.

To then reinforce these measures the Commission proposed in 2013 the Youth Employment Initiative (relaunched in May 2015) the purpose of which is to offer help to those young people who are most vulnerable i.e. those neither in employment or training. Furthermore, in order to speed up implementation of the Youth Employment Initiative the EU institutions agreed in May of this year to frontload €1 billion. According to the EU Commission this decision will help up to 650,000 young people find jobs, apprenticeships, traineeships or continued education across Europe.

Only last week (17 September) the European Commission proposed guidance to Member States to better help long-term unemployed return to work.

Notwithstanding these achievements of the recent past and accepting that the Juncker’s Commission has invested political capital into focusing a great deal of its activities into boosting the EU’s economy and job creation (also via the previously announced European Fund for Strategic Investments) it is important that we do not take our eye of the ball.

Grassroots initiatives such as our Run for Employment, important as they are, cannot deliver structural changes without the will of Europe’s political elites and businesses that will play a crucial role in delivering long-lasting solutions.

It is important to bear in mind that as the EU’s overall job market situation slowly improves, many young people will continue to struggle with and suffer from the consequences of the economic crisis. The European Commission, other EU institutions, national governments, private sector as well as the third sector should not only continue to implement existing schemes but also to step up the efforts to introduce new and more effective ones so that the economic recovery is felt across all corners of Europe as well as by all demographic groups.


This text was co-published with EuropeanPublicAffairs.eu and written by Frank Markovic




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