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Whispering Silences

Archive for the tag “MEPs”

Indebted to the future

DSC05826“We live in a Europe of mistrust”. This is what European Parliament (EP) President Martin Schulz stated yesterday Monday 4 November speaking at a very interesting conference in Athens. Organised by the EP Information Offices in Greece, Cyprus, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain – the countries worst hit by the crisis and forced to implement austerity measures – the first of its kind international conference entitled “South for Growth” aims to address the challenges and prospects faced by the countries on the south of the European map in managing the crisis.

In a densely packed room at the Athens Concert Hall, keynote speaker Schulz uttered “it is time to come to an end with the rhetoric of crisis and start a new debate – the rhetoric of hope”. He outlined four proposals which he said are the key points in forging a strategy that will help the south exit the crisis.

Calling on personal experiences, Schulz stated that during the post-WWII period governments asked parents to make sacrifices, with the promise that this would bring a better future for their children.
“These promises were kept,” he said, noting that his generation lived a better life with unprecedented opportunities. “Europe was a promise”. But now, how can we ask parents to make all the more sacrifices, when their children are unemployed, desperate and have lost hope in their future? It is for this reason, Schulz said that youth unemployment must be the first step in promoting growth.

In a passionate and dynamic speech, the EP president stressed that it is unacceptable that the European Central Bank (ECB) maintains interest rates at such a low  figure (0.5%), but Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) do not have access to liquidity. This money is not injected into the real economy, he said, and for this we need a strategy to overcome the credit crunch and help realize the SMEs’ projects. This in turn, he added, will help with employment opportunities.

“We are not bold enough,” he stated. “Let’s dare more, be more imaginative, let’s seize the potential of the resources and geostrategy of the Mediterranean”. Greater economic cooperation in this region will lead to a stronger south and as a result to a more powerful Union.

But “for all these proposals to be realized we need to regain confidence between north and south, between citizens, politics and institutions”. Using the word “trust” over ten times, Schulz was striving to pass the message that without the trust of its people in the EU and the principles of the EU forefathers, the EU structure cannot move forward.

Himself a probable candidate for the post of European Commission President, Schulz delivered a speech that by far responded to the expectations of all those people from all over Europe, mainly young, who filled the room for this conference. It is unknown as to whether the EU officials’ persistence on immediate actions that deliver results is actually due to the campaigning that has already begun ahead of the 2014 EU elections. Because it is widely acknowledged that to stay on board, you need to have achievements to show in your favour.

“The trust of citizens cannot be gained by speeches. It can only be gained when we deliver solutions,” said Schulz with MEP Thodoros Skylakakis (ALDE) adding that “we are just talking heads…we do not realize the extent of the problems, and for that citizens don’t listen to us”.

We live in a Europe of mistrust and of debt. And as EP Vice President Anni Podimata said, “we are indebted”. Not only because of the money we owe, but because of the hope and future we promised to provide to the next generation.

 

Also part of NaBloPoMo (November 2013)

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Jobless, Hopeless and Divided

Is European Labour Mobility dividing the EU?

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It’s a hard time to be young. It’s even worse if you come from the periphery of Europe. Unemployment has reached unprecedented levels, and youngsters are forced to migrate northbound for a better future. But how is this ‘great escape’ affecting the unity of the EU project?

On 9 May 1950, Robert Schuman said that Europe cannot be built in a day, but rather through events that require solidarity. Today’s European Union (EU) seems too distant from this vision. “We are doing everything in the wrong way,” says Portuguese MEP Inês Cristina Zuber (GUE/NGL), Vice President of the European Parliament’s (EP) Employment and Social Affairs Committee. She explained that the biggest problem qualified youth face today is that they are in jobs without quality contracts, no job security and no social benefits. They may even live precariously like this for years. In fact, youth unemployment has reached unprecedented levels, averaging 23% in the EU and reaching 63% in Greece, and with increasing long-term unemployment, the youth of today risk becoming the unemployable adults of tomorrow.

“We have to change these kind of labour relations,” stated Zuber, “we must create safer labour relations with guarantees and rights in order to keep people in their country. It is impossible to develop a country without these qualified people,” she said.

Her co-vice president for the EP Employment Committee, German MEP Thomas Mann (EPP), said that the EU’s Youth Employment Initiative is very important in this sense, and particularly the Youth Guarantee Scheme through which member states committed to ensure that within four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education all young people up to 25 years receive a high-quality offer for a job, an apprenticeship or traineeship. But can this really work?

EURES Adviser in Cyprus Antonis Kafouros appeared pessimistic. He said that even this is targeted to specific groups, as it cannot help everyone. “Such schemes often simply serve to keep unemployment figures at a steady level,” he explained. “There is no real investment in infrastructure or job creation. Demand levels do not increase. The programme is simply adding more qualified people into the supply end. If there are no jobs in which to use the skills/experience gained then it is futile”.

The EU has earmarked €6 billion for 2014-2016 for this scheme. But even though that sounds impressive, Joachim Weidemann, head of “Insight EU” at Deutsche Presse Agentur (dpa), calculated that this amounts to a mere €500 per unemployed person per year. “In order to have the minimum effect this programme would require €21 billion,” he noted.

Giving youngsters a chance

For Mann, however, this initiative is “a small drop on a hot stone”. It is a first step to give young people a chance to become integrated into the labour force, to gain experience and have the opportunity to seek a job. Such programmes are supported by the European Social Fund (ESF) which for the 2007-2013 period amounts to some €75 billion, more than €10 billion per year.  Mann believes this would help create the conditions for young people to stay in their countries. “The decision is taken at the EU level but the realization is in the hands of member states,” he said. He stressed that the ways for southern European countries to combat increased unemployment is by changing the conditions in these countries. “They should realize reforms and this takes hard work. Some are too lazy for these reforms.” But he insisted that the best way forward is to learn from each other: “we must ask why some countries are so successful while others are waiting for money from outside.”

Qualified individuals from the periphery of Europe face more than twice as high unemployment rates than in the north and core (17.1% compared to 7.1%). Many of these seek a better future abroad. But according to a 2011 Flash Eurobarometer, 44% of EU respondents do not want to leave their country. “They are forced to go,” says Zuber, pointing out that this is not true ‘mobility’ but immigration.

“The EU is marketing its idea of Social Europe to legitimse itself before public opinion,” continued Zuber. But how the EU is actually affecting the lives of its citizens is different. “We are now living worse than our parents,” she said, reverberating EP President Martin Schulz’s statement of a lost generation. “The EU’s programmes will help the youth find jobs and traineeships, but it is not solving the problem.” She argued that a positive discrimination is required to help countries in trouble recover and develop top-quality infrastructure. “More solidarity” is needed she said.

Zuber believes that the EU must invest in these countries, otherwise the gap in development will become even greater. “There will be the countries with the know-how and the technology and then the periphery (the countries now under a Memorandum of Understanding) with the cheap labour force to work in their industries. We will create a Europe even more divergent.”

The EU’s motto is in fact united in diversity. With all the challenges and opportunities this entails. But by failing to contain this ‘brain drain’ from the periphery to the core, the situation in immigrants’ home countries deteriorates further, accentuating the division of the EU into a prosperous north and a despaired south.

Written in Brussels on 15-17 October for the European Youth Media Days (EYMD) 2013 Orange Magazine.

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