In this guest post, Young Fabian member Tom Williams reports on a meeting of young socialists at the European Parliament.
What should have been a friendly gathering of young socialist activists from across Europe in Brussels soon became a collective cry for help.
Much fun was had as cultures clashed over politically correct buffets filled with food from across the continent, but the desperation was palpable as young people, betrayed by governments of all political colours, called upon Members of the European Parliament to take collective action in their interest.
Many on the Left rightly see those working in those shimmering glass monuments to European collectivism as the only people capable of tackling the enormous cross-border crisis in youth unemployment. The meeting of young socialists, organised by the European Parliament’s Group of Socialists and Democrats, was an opportunity to form international solutions to this most pressing crisis. The message they conveyed to the Parliament was clear: young people have been neglected by governments more concerned with rescuing Europe’s disgraced banks from collapse.
Spanish MEP Sergio Gutierrez Prieto was a welcome guest at the discussion. At 29 years of age, he belongs to the same generation as those struggling across the continent to find work. The crisis has affected his family too- his twin brother is unemployed. According to Prieto, “We belong to a generation of Europeans who grew up believing that the EU was more than an economic project. We thought that it was also a social project, and this is lacking now.” This has become even more of a concern following the crisis in the Eurozone. The calls of working people have gone unheeded. Demonstrations against austerity are being held across Spain, and violent clashes between protestors and police have become commonplace.
This generation of young people faces a grave threat to its future prosperity. In Brussels, the meeting learned that vocal opposition to austerity measures is being suppressed by force. Europe’s youth are being prevented from fighting in defence of their own life chances. For many of those present, this was the only opportunity they had to speak out.
The participants, from all twenty-seven member states, drafted an appeal to heads of state and to the European Commission, featuring fifteen points that the leader of the Group of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, Hannes Swoboda, has sent to political leaders. The appeal demands a European Youth Guarantee and calls for other young Europeans to get together to prepare a European Citizens’ Initiative.
An important section of the appeal is the call for the implementation of the Charter for Quality Internships & Apprenticeships across Europe. John Ringer, a London Young Labour committee member, spoke strongly in favour of this, having undertaken several internships himself. Labour’s Stephen Hughes responded with admirable spirit, but it was still not clear what powers Brussels has to ensure interns are paid a fair wage and to ensure they are open to all.
The final appeal included a demand for the S&D members to fight for quality traineeships where young people can gain real experience, rather than simply serve coffee to their bosses. It also calls for apprenticeships and internships to be regulated to ensure high quality and decent working conditions.
During the discussion, Spanish MEP Eider Gardiazabal explained that she belongs to a multi-party group in the European Parliament working on youth issues. One of their main objectives is to make sure that traineeships and internships are fair; she invited anyone who wants to know more to get in touch with her.
A fascinating contribution was made by Héla Khamarou of Génération Précaire, an organisation that started in Paris before the crisis, in response to the drastic problem of young people being stuck in a cycle of endless internships with no prospects for future employment. It is similar to Intern Aware, a UK-based pressure group cited by Héla as a superb example of young people taking the reins and fighting for themselves in the face of institutional inertia. Héla explained that Génération Précaire has created its own rating agency to rate politicians by their attitudes towards young people. You can check the rating given to each candidate on their website.
The crisis in youth unemployment will not be solved solely by young people, or by national governments acting alone. Part of the problem is the international nature of the debt crises hitting governments across Europe. However, Brussels seems paralysed by institutional inertia, assuming that it is the role of national governments to ensure young people have a right to work.
What needs to be emphasised to our MEPs is that it is the responsibility of Brussels to step in where national solutions are simply not enough. Our government may be failing us, but other governments in Europe have also demonstrated a stunning reluctance to tackle the problem. There is hope: the election of President Hollande has been lauded as a victory for young people. Yet if European member states fail to cooperate, an end to the crisis seems a distant prospect. This will be of no comfort to the many young people we heard from who remain out of work.
Tom Williams is a Young Fabians member