A strengthened European Youth Guarantee allows member states to tackle rising youth unemployment—Eurostat figures show that’s urgent.
The Covid-19 pandemic continues to have unprecedented consequences. Our thoughts turn foremost to those who have lost loved ones. At the same time, the prolonged restrictions, necessary to save lives, are leaving deep social and economic scars.
Unemployment figures released by Eurostat show we are not all equal before the pandemic. While many can maintain stable employment from home, essential workers are under strain and many in precarious jobs have lost their income.
Young people are particularly vulnerable: a third of workers under 29 are in temporary employment. Many are in sectors, such as retail, catering and tourism, which are suffering badly.
Eurostat recorded 481,000 more unemployed under-25s across the European Union in November than at the start of 2020. And the worst might be yet to come. We are at risk of seeing a lost generation emerge.
We socialists and democrats remember the harm caused by the last crisis in 2008. At its peak, the EU’s youth unemployment rate reached 25 per cent. In the worst hit countries, it was almost 50 per cent. We must not go back there.
In response to that crisis, our political family created the European Youth Guarantee. Today, we are acting again. We are renewing that programme to help today’s young people gain access to the labour market, backed by other measures such as the Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency (SURE) instrument.
The European Youth Guarantee entitles every young person to a place in continued education, a traineeship, an apprenticeship or a job within four months of leaving education or becoming unemployed. Implemented through national programmes, supported by EU funds, the guarantee’s first phase reached 24 million young people. It helped them build lasting careers.
Building on success
The reinforced European Youth Guarantee put forward last year by the progressive European commissioner for jobs and social rights, Nicolas Schmit, will build on that success.
It lifts the age ceiling for eligibility, from 25 to 29. It ensures the scheme reaches members of marginalised groups, such as the long-term unemployed, people with disabilities, those in rural areas and people from a migrant background. It better considers gender equality and the impact of caring responsibilities.
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At the EU level, the reinforced guarantee has been pushed through in record time. We recognise the size of the challenge ahead. Now it is time to put it to use.
The guarantee is a European commitment. But we rely on member states and regional authorities to deliver it. For example, progressive governments in Italy, France, Croatia and in Belgian regions used the first iteration of the Youth Guarantee to overhaul the way public-employment services reached out to younger people, with measurable improvements in the prospects of those who took part. Others used the Youth Guarantee to strengthen existing systems. But for many, the opportunity was missed last time.
Europe has offered dedicated funding to make sure the reinforced guarantee is a success. But to realise its full potential, member states must chip in too. The European Commission estimates that a €22 billion top-up is needed over the next seven years. This may seem like a large sum—but the cost of inaction would be greater.
Socialists and democrats stand by young citizens, in good times and bad. We urge every member state to do the same. Let’s quickly implement the improved European Youth Guarantee—dedicating enough funding to support jobs, training and education, and ensuring that social protections reach as many young people as possible.
Europe cannot afford a lost generation.
Sergei Stanishev MEP is president of the Party of European Socialists. Iratxe García Pérez is president of the Socialists and Democrats group in the European Parliament and first vice-president of the PES. Ana Mendes Godinho is the Portuguese minister of labour, solidarity and social security. Agnes Jongerius MEP is chair of the PES Social Europe Network. László Andor is secretary general of the Foundation for European Progressive Studies and a former European commissioner for employment, social affairs and inclusion. Paul Magnette is leader of the French-speaking Belgian Socialist Party.