Young people in Europe : from « lost generation » to « sacrificed generation » ?

A hundred years later, we are far away from the romantic, Hemingwayan myth of « all of you young people who served in the war ». Yet Hemingway’s “lost generation” still found in themselves the pride and the courage to shine through the arts, giving to our generation some of the most brilliant masterpieces of all time, novels that we now read with admiration and envy. A generation maybe lost, but still owner of its own destiny.

So what is left for us ? After a century, this young European generation hasn’t experienced a single, devastating war the way that Hemingway’s generation lost did the First World War. The young generation of our century is instead victim of a continuous state of agitation stemming from lots of different wars around the world. Victim of an uncertainty that derives from this deep and apparently still unsolvable recession and economic crisis. Young people, in this era where everything could be possible, where travelling and communication are unlimited, where public education is open to (almost) everybody, are called upon to make a lot of sacrifices.

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Hemingway popularised the term « lost generation » to describe the swathe of young people who lost their lives, or had their lives irrevocably changed, by the First World War. But the young generation of today faces different challenges.

Image credit : Poppies I by cwasteton on flickr licensed under CC-BY

It seems that the Council of Europe is well aware of this. Last month, it signed and published a resolution on young people and employment, edited in its final version a few days ago. The Resolution is called : « Resolution 1885 (2012). The young generation sacrificed : social, economic and political implications of the financial crisis ».

The Resolution begins with this statement : « Young people are a key asset for Europe ». A sentence that is as obvious as it is important. It continues : « Conditions must be created for them to participate fully in decision-making, democratic processes and the shaping of a more cohesive, prosperous and just society. Yet the financial and economic crises, together with underlying structural problems, threaten the effective exercise of rights by the young generation, whose autonomy, dignity and well-being are severely affected by growing economic and social inequalities. In some countries, the enormous public debt, financial speculation and the global economic crisis force the young generation to make painful sacrifices ».

This shows an important awareness, but one that is not seen every day. There is no evidence of this knowledge in newspapers, for example. But yet this sounds so obvious and has been indicated in all the polls and statistics of the past few years. Further on in the document, the Parliamentary Assembly says that : « is deeply concerned by the fact that the young generation in Europe is disproportionally hit by the unemployment/underemployment-poverty-exclusion trap ». A trap and so much more. Everybody must be aware of the fact that this situation could easily lead to a tragedy, if concrete changes are not quickly made.

A tragedy only for young people ?

Unfortunately, this is not the case. The category of people that will suffer most due to the recent crisis of unemployment amongst the young will be that part of European society that is ageing. Europe is not a young continent, as is shown by the demographic phenomenon known as « ageing Europe » or « greying Europe ». Only Japan has a population where the average age is older than in Europe.

To give some statitics, the Brookings Institution think tank predicts the median age in Europe will increase from 37.7 years old in 2003 to 52.3 years old by 2050 (while it will increase to only 35.4 years old in America). The greyest nations in Europe are Italy and Germany, with the percentage of the population over 65 years old representing more than 20% of the overall population. Moreover, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the European Union will experience a 14% decrease in its workforce and a 7% decrease in its consumer populations by 2030. Not really that far into the future.

Europe’s population is ageing fast. The Council believes that investing in young people is essential for the future.
Image credit : Elderly People - sign on Warwick Road, Olton by ell brown on flickr licensed under CC-BY (Traffic sign © Crown Copyright)

For these reasons, the Parliamentary Assembly continues by saying that « adequately supporting young people today, even in times of austerity, is the best investment Europe can make in its future vitality and quality growth ».

Results will be effective only if all the European countries collaborate together to reach this common aim. The Resolutions highlights some guidelines on how to translate this abstract goodwill into reality. You can read some of them here :

- Focus youth strategies and action plans on better integration of young people into society through active citizenship, social dialogue and sustainable employment opportunities ;

- Ensure that young people have full access to all their human (including social) rights ;

- Ensure adequate remuneration and working conditions for young workers ;

- Promote the emancipation of young people by developing housing policies specifically addressed to this age group ;

- Adjust their educational systems towards equipping young people with a wider array of skills and linguistic abilities to better qualify for the evolving needs of labour markets and multiple vacant jobs across Europe ;

- Remove administrative and tax obstacles to youth mobility for studies, training and work, and stimulate this mobility ;

- Offer tax incentives for employers who propose apprenticeships to young people while retaining older workers, notably for the inter-generational transmission of skills in the workplace ;

- Address the exclusion of young people from the educational system, as well as the risk of a digital divide due to the lack of equal opportunities in the access to the Internet ;

- Make better use of new means of communication, consultation and institutional representation (including youth councils, youth organisations and youth parliaments) for building more collaborative social models that give voice to young people and adequately taken their input into account ;

- Consider setting up multifunctional youth support funds aimed at providing more scholarships for students, fostering the creation of start-up enterprises and access to patents by young entrepreneurs and promoting social inclusion projects for the young generation.

The Assembly will check how many of these goals have been reached by each country in 2014. Two years is a long time to wait. If action has to be taken, this should happen sooner rather than later. Every day wasted is another humiliation for all the young people that have to leave their studies before time and take any kind of job that is available, jobs that often pay low wages and involve long hours. Another humiliation for those that still have to rely on their parents for support and that are then accused of not having the will to make their own way in life.

It is certain that in order to improve this situation, more than guidelines will be necessary. How many of these actions have already been taken by your government ? The answer to this question is unfortunately easy to predict.

Read the full text of the resolution here :

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