President. – The next item is the debate on the oral question to the Commission by Pervenche Berès, on behalf of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, on the Youth opportunities initiative (O-000106/2012) – (B7-0113/2012) (2012/2617(RSP)).
Pervenche Berès, author. – (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs wanted to ask this question, and it did not know at the time that, on the very day on which we were to debate it, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) would bring out global youth unemployment figures, with 75 million young people unemployed and a red card for the European Union, within which 7.5 million young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are currently neither in a job nor in education or training.
The European Union comes bottom of the class worldwide. Yet, when I look at the challenges facing the European Union, throughout the world, here and elsewhere, all day long, we say that Europe must meet the challenge of innovation, that it is innovation, that it is – a phrase I do not like – our human capital which will enable us to win the battle of globalisation. Yet, if that is the diagnosis we are making, how can we leave outside the labour market and exclude an entire generation? It is the whole question of the social impact of this crisis, which is not taken into account, which is neglected, which is regarded as a secondary issue. We are taking a collective risk, the consequences of which we are already seeing in a number of countries.
The European Commission therefore set up eight Action Teams in eight of our Member States – Italy, Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Latvia, Spain, Lithuania and Slovakia – so that the European Union could mobilise its actions and its teams in these countries in order to meet this challenge in particular.
Our questions to you, Commissioner, are therefore as follows. What are your conclusions? What proposals are you making? Where do you stand on this? We will support you whenever useful proposals are made to address this issue. However, we cannot accept the fact that youth unemployment rose from 14.7% in 2008 to 22.1% in 2011 and that, in many of our countries – as we know – almost half of young people are outside the labour market.
We need what we have defined together as the goals of the EU 2020 strategy, which, it seems to me, has not aged a bit from that point of view, to be followed by actions. Yet, in this strategy – need I remind you – we said that we wanted early school leaving to be reduced to 10% of young people. We said that 40% of 30-34 year-olds would be required to have a qualifying diploma. What is happening in this regard? The proposals are on the table. I have taken note of the conclusions of the Council of 11 May 2012 with regard to strengthening the creative potential and innovation of young people. There is an urgent need for the EU to work towards this end.
When the European Parliament, in particular, the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, has examined the report by Jutta Steinruck on the EU programme for social change and innovation, it will submit proposals to you to enable us to finance a Youth Guarantee so that young people, when they leave the school system or when they lose their job, are no more than four months without work, without a training proposal or without an apprenticeship proposal.
Those are the elements we want to discuss with you, Commissioner. We are convinced that this issue is a challenge for this generation of young people, the objective being to prevent them from becoming the excluded of tomorrow. However, it is also a challenge for our entire society, for the benefit of which we must take action. Commissioner, I know that, in this regard, we can count on your vigilance and the fact that you are a force for bringing forward proposals. This is a good opportunity to debate these elements and to make forward-looking proposals.
László Andor, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, in order to address the excessively high, and sometimes even dramatic, levels of youth unemployment in the European Union, the Commission adopted its Youth opportunities initiative last December and this has been endorsed by the European Council. It calls on the Member States to take action in four main areas: preventing early school leaving; developing skills that are relevant to the labour market; helping young people gain their first work experience and on-the-job training; and helping them to access the labour market and get a job.
Implementing the initiative may involve three avenues: where possible, reallocating Structural Fund resources; designing effective policy through the European Semester; and taking action at EU level via other initiatives such as a Quality Framework for Traineeships and a Youth Guarantee.
The Commission has engaged with the 15 Member States whose youth unemployment rates are above the EU average. It sent eight Action Teams to the Member States with the highest youth unemployment and held bilateral talks with the other seven. The aim was to see what measures should be taken and how the EU funds available could be refocused. This is a pilot exercise involving the Structural Funds, which are subject to shared management. As you know, that means the individual Member States are responsible for using the amounts allocated to them. Overall programming took place at the beginning of the current period and the allocations to the Member States cannot be altered.
In the current tight budget situation, EU funds can nevertheless help hugely by supporting national policy efforts. At the end of last year, of the EUR 347 billion in Structural Fund resources for the current programming period, about EUR 82 billion had not been set aside for specific projects, and around EUR 40 billion was still available for the eight Action Team Member States.
Youth employment is a high priority for European Social Fund spending in most Member States. That is why the Action Teams looked at stepping up programmes and measures that are performing well to give young people additional support quickly, and reduce or abandon programmes that are performing less well. The results are encouraging. About EUR 7.3 billion has been reallocated so far. This should benefit at least 450 000 people.
The Commission has agreed on practical follow-up with the eight individual Action Team Member States. President Barroso will present the detailed results to the Heads of State or Government at an informal dinner tonight (23 May) in Brussels.
Likewise, we are now finalising the operational conclusions of bilateral meetings with the seven other Member States involved. Naturally, the Commission is ready to assist other Member States as well in altering the allocation of EU funds.
Over the past few weeks, the Commission has been looking at Member States’ national reform programmes under the European Semester. At the end of May, the Commission will put forward proposals for country-specific recommendations. A large number of Member States will receive recommendations on youth employment and related issues, such as education.
This year, I will be presenting two other initiatives that are very close to the concerns of this House. These are the quality framework for traineeships and the policy framework for Youth Guarantees. They will provide practical policy guidance for smooth school-to-work transitions and the fair treatment of young people. In December, the Commission will be presenting a comprehensive report on the results of the Youth Initiative one year after it was launched. This will be an opportunity to discuss it with you as well and I will be glad to report to the House.
The problem of youth unemployment will not disappear overnight and only if we address it with resolve. That is why we made it one of the key priorities for the future Structural Funds programmes. The European Social Fund in particular will be an important instrument for Member States to support schemes to tackle this problem.
Heinz K. Becker, on behalf of the PPE Group. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, these are not empty words; Europe is at risk of having a lost generation if we do not act now. We must not close our eyes to the fact that people who have been looking for a job for a long time without success and are trying to plan their lives lose vision and hope for the future. This is happening to precisely those young people who represent the future competitiveness of this continent. I therefore welcome the Commission’s initiative.
I would particularly like to thank the rapporteur, who has put across the essential aspects in very succinct and precise terms. I should like to highlight one thing that also illuminates the fact that there is no time to lose. Whether or not an economic recovery is on its way, structural reforms must take place, because it is still about installing models that have been a success on this continent, such as apprenticeships. Of course, that takes time. The statistics tell a clear story.
I should like to highlight the youth guarantee, but also the permanent qualification of people in lifelong learning which begins in youth, and here, the service sector and the green economy in particular represent a hope for the future and provide potential.
We, in politics, bear the responsibility. Let us therefore create a visible added value for our citizens by taking political action. This is a top priority project. Europe must act. We must act. The Commission must act. However, the Member States must also act together with their social partners – and they must do so now.
Alejandro Cercas, on behalf of the S&D Group. – (ES) Mr President, Commissioner, the members of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament are grateful to you for helping to raise awareness of this major problem among your colleagues in the Commission and Council.
As you know, this is a terribly important problem. There are times when it is a genuine tragedy, certainly for those young people who are no longer living but merely surviving, because their hopes and personal projects have been shattered, as have their capability and dream of having a future and becoming citizens.
As Ms Berès said, we should not, therefore, be talking so much about the market or about supply and demand. This is a question of fundamental rights that are being violated, not temporarily but structurally, paving the way for a tragedy with unprecedented consequences, not least for our society. It is estimated that the 5.5 million young people who are not working or studying are costing us over EUR 100 billion, which is 10 times the amount it would cost us to establish a proper programme offering them training and employment opportunities.
That is why, Commissioner, I believe that for the countries that your Action Teams have visited, where there is an unmanageable problem, this is no time for words; rather, it is time for action. The future of those young people is our future, and their lack of a future is going to result in the lack of a future for us, as well.
Commissioner, time for action does not mean talking about words, programmes and recommendations but rather about specific means, instruments and measures. There are eight countries that have no capacity. We have to give them capacity by removing all the budgetary restrictions they currently face. They cannot even access EU programmes because they cannot cofinance them.
I have three specific questions, Commissioner. Do those Member States, or does the Commission, intend to reallocate the EUR 22 billion to those Member States facing the greatest difficulties? Can the Commission adjust the cofinancing rate? Lastly, can there be any new financing instruments for those who have no means and who are losing, through austerity measures, the limited means they still have?
Riikka Manner, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – (FI) Mr President, Commissioner, firstly, I would like to thank the rapporteur for this excellent motion and for the excellent work that you have done.
In Europe right now, there are, in fact, millions of young people who have finished school and, with faith in the future, are beginning to look for employment. While they were studying, many of them were certainly very self-confident, but that self-confidence often starts to wilt when they start job-hunting. Of course, there has always been the belief that there is enough work out there, but nowadays the situation has actually changed. All too familiar are the stories in which young school-leavers send dozens of job applications off to various places, only to receive the answer from some of them that they are, for example, too well-educated for the job, while others – workplaces offering jobs that correspond to the qualifications they hold – might say that the applicants do not have enough work experience, even though they are well qualified.
Perhaps the biggest paradox of all concerns what is being asked of young people today. On the one hand, they are required, within a short period of time, to obtain an education, gain work experience, and perhaps even start a family in the meantime. This is asking far too much at this stage and in society as it is today. On the other hand, we have to remember that the challenges of the labour market have also changed. We no longer do the same job throughout our career: people might have an average of ten jobs in their lifetime and, there again, this poses challenges for educational services and lifelong learning.
It is very important that we now take concrete action to discover the key to solving this problem of youth unemployment. The Commissioner mentioned the Structural Funds and the unused Structural Funds, which, in fact, currently amount to EUR 82 billion. It is very important that more use can be made of these – from both the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the European Social Fund (ESF) – for major concrete measures to reduce youth unemployment. On the other hand, the ball is also largely in the Member States’ court, obviously.
We also need other concrete measures, and I am pleased that the Commissioner also mentioned these. For example, the Youth Guarantee is one such concrete measure that I really hope will be promoted.
This problem of youth unemployment has been spoken about at European level very much and very frequently, but merely stating the problem and complaining about it are now no longer enough. We really have to find the instruments that will actually enable us to develop social structures in such a way that young people can enter the world of work more quickly than before. In addition to social measures, every one of us, of course, will need to be active and genuinely willing to achieve this.
Emilie Turunen, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (DA) Mr President, I hardly know where to start. I am extremely, extremely upset that my own generation is possibly the first generation in Europe that will not have a better standard of living than their parents, the first that will not experience Europe as offering progress and opportunities. It really makes me very upset, and I am frustrated at the fact that during the time we have been standing here, throughout all the debates that we have had as a Parliament and with you as Commissioner, youth unemployment has only moved in one direction, and that is up.
However, let me try to be a bit more constructive. I would like to start by expressing my thanks for the Commission’s initiatives – both the Youth opportunities initiative and the employment package that you came up with in April. They are the right sort of initiatives. However, I must say two things in this connection. The first is that I do not quite believe that the solutions we are presenting are up to the challenges. The second is that I think we really have to move on from the paper and on to the budgets, because otherwise, young people will not notice us making any difference. To give just one example: this week, you presented ‘Your First EURES Job’. This is a brilliant initiative, but it only affects 5 000 young Europeans, and there are 5.5 million looking for a job. We simply have to find a way to scale it up. We have to make some really extraordinary efforts very soon.
I have three questions for the Commissioner. I hope that you will have an opportunity to answer them, either now or later. The first concerns the youth guarantee. I am very pleased that you presented this in your paper. Thank you for that. What are you expecting the Member States to deliver, Commissioner? Are they going to deliver on this and implement it before the end of 2012? Secondly, Commissioner, where do you see young people being given a place in the discussion on growth that is currently going on in Europe? Will young people have a place in a new investment pact, if it comes off at top level between the Heads of State or Government? Thirdly and lastly, Commissioner, if you would like to be part of thinking right outside the box as regards youth unemployment, then I think this House would be happy to join you in trying to make an extraordinary effort for this generation, which right now has very few prospects.
IN THE CHAIR: ROBERTA ANGELILLI Vice-President
Milan Cabrnoch, on behalf of the ECR Group. – (CS) Madam President, there can surely be no one, either in this Chamber or in our own countries, who would not support youth employment, or who would doubt that it is wrong when a young person who is ready to work has no work.
Where we disagree is in the solutions to this problem. I am afraid that declarations, programmes and initiatives are not enough. We must take decisive steps towards a real solution. I therefore have some questions for the Commissioner. Will the Commission propose further liberalisation and the breaking down of legal and administrative barriers to worker mobility in the EU? Is the Commission ready to support deregulation and greater flexibility in employment relations? Is the Commission working on a modernisation of the EURES system? Does the Commission support a reform of education systems aimed at balancing supply and demand on labour markets?
Juozas Imbrasas, on behalf of the EFD Group. – (LT) Madam President, there is absolutely no question that the economic recession has increased general and youth unemployment, both in the European Union and my own country, Lithuania. In the European Union, as my colleague previously mentioned, almost 5.5 million young people are unemployed. Many young people are not exploiting their learning potential and are failing to acquire the skills required by employers. The 7 million figure was also mentioned – the number of 15-24 year-olds who are not in education, employment or training. In Lithuania, one in three young people are unemployed. This is a very complex and serious situation. As my colleague said, these countries need to be assisted financially. Yes, there needs to be assistance, but I believe that the European Commission and the European institutions should monitor such funds very strictly so that money intended to get young people into work is used efficiently to create as many jobs as possible. In order to really change the situation rather than massage figures, we need to improve the conditions for creating jobs, create an attractive business environment, and fundamentally change the tax system – this would encourage business initiatives to create jobs. Austerity measures on their own are not enough to solve the problems today. Initiatives and investment in economic growth, job creation and, above all, our future – young people – are very important.
Thomas Händel, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (DE) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, what should worry us and make us panic is not simply the sheer numbers of unemployed young people in Europe, but the way this is developing. Between 2008 and 2011, the number of unemployed young people rose by 26.5%, according to the International Labour Organisation. It is this development that necessitates urgent measures, for we are not only cutting off an entire generation from the labour market – we are cutting off an entire generation from a future worth living. If we allow our young people to feel completely useless, it is no wonder that young people are turning away from this EU because they have no reasonable prospect of work or life opportunities.
I would really urge you, Commissioner, to ensure that the measures decided on to counter this are initiated. I can see some things being done, but please ensure that the many years’ of mental doldrums are not now replaced by a flurry of activity. When I read that the Commission is starting a programme under which young people will now be given financial assistance if they apply for a job abroad, then we are starting a migration circus that will not solve the problem. On the contrary, it will be counterproductive; because technicians, doctors, engineers and care workers will then be poached by the richer countries that are not in this crisis.
In this crisis, which is the cause of this development, what we need are offensive measures; namely, the phasing out of this lunatic austerity that is stifling Europe’s economy. We need a targeted growth policy, we need a strengthening of domestic purchasing power, and public investments in education, research and alternative energies. That would be the right approach. Combined with European subsidies, it would then be possible actually to develop an integrated concept that creates some prospects for the lives of young people.
I have one final comment to make, and that is that this youth unemployment cannot be reconciled with the nonsense about wanting to raise the retirement age to 70. We need a different policy here that allows young people access to the labour market. That is what I am urgently calling for.
Nicole Sinclaire (NI). – Madam President, the ever-growing figure of youth unemployment results from the selfishness of today’s politicians abandoning tomorrow’s prospects. In the UK, there has been a 43% increase in the number of young people aged 18 to 24 who have not had a job for more than two years. It would seem that some have given up on looking for work and are becoming increasingly detached from society.
The youth unemployment crisis can be beaten only if job creation for young people becomes a key priority in policy making and private sector investment picks up significantly. My concern is that the EU is far too rigid in its general approach to law making to be of any real assistance to our young people. Yes, you might point to this scheme or that scheme, but the bureaucracy to apply for support is so disproportionate to the assistance required that it becomes self-defeating.
The UK needs to offer tax breaks and other incentives to businesses hiring young people and offering more entrepreneurship programmes to help kick-start careers. EU, you are part of the problem, not the solution.
Thomas Mann (PPE). – (DE) Madam President, more than 7.5 million people between the ages of 15 and 24 in the EU are not in employment, education or training. What is more, youth unemployment is growing. We must not allow a lost generation to emerge.
At the hearing of the Youth opportunities initiative in the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs in March, the aims were clear: to give young people sufficient qualifications, to provide them with access to education and training, and to significantly reduce the school drop-out rate. We also need this to be joined up with three of the seven flagship initiatives of the Europe 2020 strategy, Commissioner: firstly, improving education systems through the Youth on the Move project; secondly, the agenda for new skills and jobs, promotion of labour mobility and lifelong learning; and thirdly, the European platform against poverty, in order to prevent this exclusion at an early stage. Municipalities, regions and Member States should be supported at EU level in their fight against youth unemployment through inclusion in the Lifelong Learning, Youth on the Move and Progress programmes.
However, the European Social Fund must take priority. When it comes down to it, it is about developing personal skills in order to lead young people out of uneducated environments, in order to initiate apprenticeship programmes and allow young people to be integrated into the labour market. In my report on solidarity between the generations, I called for the often-mentioned European youth initiative. After four months’ unemployment, all young people should be offered a job – an apprenticeship or further training – because people have to be both willing and able to work.
Once and for all, let us coordinate these initiatives better at EU and Member State level. Let us mobilise resources that have not been paid out. Let us put the European Semester into practice, so that national economic policies can be better coordinated. Our young people are worth these efforts and much more.
Sergio Gutiérrez Prieto (S&D). – (ES) Madam President, Commissioner, to be honest, I have a feeling of despair, almost frustration, that I must share with someone. Allow me to do so with you this evening.
This is the third or fourth debate we have held recently in this House on the situation of youth unemployment across Europe. We have had debate after debate, while youth unemployment rates are rocketing, reaching almost 50% of the active population in some Member States; many young people are left with no form of social or unemployment protection; and the situation is shifting from worrying to unsustainable, and from unsustainable to tragic. Yet the Commission presents itself once again in Parliament as if it were a mere political commentator or just another analyst rather than the true executive body of the Union that it is and, moreover, that we need.
Commissioner, governing means establishing priorities and taking the initiative, with the aim of achieving a purpose or goal, and the Commission is failing to do that. Governing does not mean simply restructuring funds, nor even announcing it so as to look good to the public, but instead presenting an ambitious, long-term, fast-acting strategy that can put an end to youth unemployment.
Governing does not mean resigning oneself to a rate of youth unemployment that is above 20% and being satisfied with a pilot project of EUR 4 million, which is derisory given the scale of the problem we are facing.
Governing does not mean giving in to pressure from the College of Commissioners or other Member States in the Council that are trying to convince us that we shall only emerge from this financial crisis and this new wave of recession by giving up salaries, employment rights or compensation, and that a precarious future is the only thing that lies ahead for this generation.
If it were true, Commissioner, that it is only through precarity that we can regain competitiveness and that just by being more precarious we can become more competitive, then Zimbabwe would be the most competitive country, and it is not. Sweden, Finland and Denmark are instead, and they are characterised precisely by their exemplary model of relations and a model of guaranteed employment rights.
Madam President, employment is far more than just a citizen’s right; it is a tool by which people are connected with the system, and an instrument for social integration. Therefore, the more unemployment there is, the greater people’s political disaffection, and that is why, Commissioner, it is of no use to me whatsoever to hear you talking about matters of competence to avoid doing anything about youth unemployment. What is more, Commissioner, when it was necessary to make a loose interpretation of the Treaties in order to create the European Financial Stability Fund, for example, you did so, and when the Treaties had to be revised in order to fulfil or meet the crazed demands of a particular Member State as regards austerity, we also did so.
This, then, is the point I am trying to make. You have, for example, the youth employment guarantee, which needs no explanation. You should fight to increase its budget; use the European Social Fund as an instrument if necessary; design a cofinanced and supportive implementing mechanism that provides greater help to countries with the highest levels of unemployment; put pressure on the worst affected countries to make further changes to the policy of social suffocation; and remember that behind every statistic there is a person suffering.
Then you may think as I do, that deciding who holds responsibility is the least important thing, because for all our citizens, particularly young people, we are the ones who are entirely responsible.
Phil Bennion (ALDE). – Madam President, I certainly welcome the Youth opportunities initiative. It offers some good suggestions in its call for Member States to implement measures to tackle youth unemployment.
However, it is important to recognise that some Member States are already taking quite considerable action. Certainly we in the UK are acutely aware of the problems we have with youth unemployment. What we have done recently – and it is very recently, I admit – is to include measures to tackle youth unemployment in our growth plan. We recognise that short-term job creation, based on subsidised loans and other public borrowing, is not a sustainable long-term solution, so we have made sure that our support measures are available to unemployed young people and are flexible, targeted and based on individuals’ reasons for unemployment, their level of experience and their level of education, because we want to make sure that we provide the right support for the right person.
How can we ensure that this European initiative is complementary to the national schemes already put in place by Member States and is not overly prescriptive? In terms of funding, the Youth opportunities initiative appears to have a very small set of funding streams, available through the European Social Fund and under the heading of social innovation, for example. I want to know if the Commission envisages a means of boosting the funds available, through mechanisms such as the Programme for Social Change and Innovation, in which there are proposals to include a Youth Initiative axis, although these seem to be rather dependent on new funding being found.
I am concerned about excessive bureaucracy in any initiative of this kind, especially when many of the measures need to be accessed directly by young and potentially disadvantaged people or, in the case of apprenticeships, by small businesses. Can we expect these mechanisms to be coupled with existing Member State programmes, or to be accessible through some sort of one-stop shop with clear guidance and information for users?
Anthea McIntyre (ECR). – Madam President, youth unemployment is one of the biggest challenges facing Member States, and tonight’s debate is very welcome. The EU certainly has a role to play, but we do not have a magic wand and we cannot just decree jobs.
The EU could do a lot to support Member States simply by exchanging best practice. In the UK, as has already been mentioned, we have committed GBP 1 billion to a new youth contract. There is much the EU can do, such as coordinating policy initiatives, but also completing the single market, promoting mobility and, especially, reducing the red tape that prevents SMEs in particular from taking on young people.
So let us concentrate on practical solutions and not engage in gesture politics which betray our young people.
Derek Roland Clark (EFD). – Madam President, I do not believe that spending more taxpayers’ money will solve the growing problem of youth unemployment. Nor are grand plans and schemes, like the EU Youth opportunities initiative, the answer, for these have nothing to offer.
To tackle a problem resulting from its own policies, the EU is proposing another expensive Commission programme. Rather, we should stop taking money from small businesses in particular, and remove the red tape burden from SMEs, which are the employers of half the workforce. That will free their businesses up and allow them to employ young people, reducing unemployment. We should reduce taxes on big business in return for them taking on young people in apprenticeships and training. With this kind of stimulus, they will prosper as their trainees, becoming more productive in years to come, plough their skills back in.
For businesses offer actual practice and training, forming the habit of working and taking home money which has been earned, creating the dignity of providing for oneself, which can only help society.
Younous Omarjee (GUE/NGL). – (FR) Madam President, Commissioner, I would like the Commission to clarify certain aspects of the proposal on the redeployment of uncommitted structural funds.
In a letter I received from your colleague, Commissioner Johannes Hahn, he said that the Commission had chosen to target eight Member States that were particularly affected by youth unemployment.
The question I would like to ask you is simple. Does that mean that only those eight Member States identified by the Commission will be beneficiaries of this measure? Does that mean that the remaining Member States will be deprived of the benefit of this measure? Does that also mean that, since France does not seem to be one of those eight Member States, the French outermost regions will, in fact, be deprived of these redeployments, at a time when they are the regions with the highest rate of youth unemployment? On the island of Réunion, for example, the rate of unemployment among young people under 25 is 60%.
My proposal is therefore simple: I call on the Commission to consider taking into account the specific situation of the French outermost regions so that they can become eligible for positive measures to combat youth unemployment.
Jutta Steinruck (S&D), Blue-card question. – (DE) Mr Clark, you and some of the previous speakers have mentioned a reduction in red tape as a cure-all to get rid of youth unemployment in Europe. I would be very interested to know, however, what exactly you mean by that, and whether you are also aware of the consequences of certain measures.
Derek Roland Clark (EFD), Blue-card answer. – It was not me that said this first. It was Commissioner Barroso himself who, just under two years ago, said in this House that red tape was strangling small businesses. I have since asked the Commissioner twice what he is going to do about removing or reducing red tape. I get no answer.
As for what I mean, I mean all the petty, small regulations which so hamper small businesses and drive some of them to the wall and some of them to distraction as the owner sits up late at night completing this form or that form or accounting for this penny or that penny. No, it is not the complete answer; nothing ever is. But it would be a jolly good start if small businesses in particular were freed of much of this red tape so they could get on with the job of doing what they are doing and then, because they have got more capital to spend, employ young people and help youth unemployment.
Danuta Jazłowiecka (PPE). – (PL) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, none of us doubts the problems and hazards faced by young people in the European employment market. The unemployment rate among people under 25 has increased continuously since 2008 and, at the end of 2011, it was double that for all people of working age. One in five people in the EU cannot currently find a job, and more than 7.5 million of them are not only not earning, but are also not in training of any kind; what is more, in certain countries, the level of unemployment among young people has risen to an alarming 50%.
This situation is the result not only of the economic and financial crisis, but also of a lack of prospects and opportunities for young people to develop and acquire basic skills, allowing them to compete in the labour market. For many years, our educational system has failed to accomplish its task, and is still based on curricula which do not in any way reflect the requirements of the labour market. In addition, at the start of their lives as independent adults, young people face problems accessing traineeships and internships, loans and stable jobs which would allow them to develop and invest in their future. This situation means that many Member States, and Europe as a whole, are at risk of brain drain, which can be deadly not only to our economy, but also to science and culture. We believe that the initiatives taken by the European Commission for the benefit of young people, such as the Youth opportunities initiative, are important in this context. It is important, however, that in the forest of actions and programmes which have taken shape recently, we do not lose sight of the objective, which is to make space for young people in the labour market.
Structural reforms in the labour market, as well as social investments in education, training, traineeships and internships, may prove very helpful in this situation. They will equip young persons with the basic skills needed in the labour market and with tools which help them to adjust proactively and flexibly to changing social and economic conditions. In this context, efficient use of the new EU financial perspectives is particularly important, as is the efficient allocation of funds under the European Social Fund.
Commissioner, our young people are the most important investment of our lives. Let us take care of them with the utmost concern and responsibility.
Jutta Steinruck (S&D). – (DE) Madam President, Commissioner, many of the previous speakers have already mentioned that we are on the way to losing a generation of young people. I think that we all also agree that it is high time that something was done. Initial proposals were made in January this year or in December, so we have already wasted a couple of years with nothing but declarations of intent and a failure to tackle things in concrete terms; instead, responsibilities have been shifted to and fro at European level. I hope that is now in the past.
Single-minded austerity is destroying the jobs of our young people. Growth creates jobs and training places, including for the young people of Europe, and also saves the costs of future social expenditure. What we need now is a rescue package for young people, for young Europeans, that is given just as much priority as was the rescue package for the banks. We found it easy to spend EUR 800 billion on rescuing the banks. It was right, and it was important, but we have to do it just as vehemently for something that will be much more important to us in the future, or at least equally as important.
Alternatively, what about the EUR 82 billion that has not been spent from the Structural Funds? As the previous speaker has already said, we need to call off the money. That would give us EUR 15 000 to spend on each unemployed young person in Europe, if that would simplify things. Moreover, as the previous speaker mentioned, we also have to use the Structural Funds for this in the future. Together with my shadow rapporteurs, I have started initiatives for my report on the Programme for Social Change and Innovation, so that we very specifically allocate funding for a youth initiative. I hope, then, that I will also have the support of this Parliament, of the Commission and also of the Council in getting this funding, since everyone says that it is so important, and that this will also be anchored today in the other funds. This money could be very well used for the future of us all.
Hannu Takkula (ALDE). – (FI) Madam President, Commissioner, we face a very serious problem: that of youth unemployment in the European Union. It has to be said that we have dealt with it in a very slapdash, very unsatisfactory way. We have lost sight of the big picture, and I suspect that this is still the case. Here, we use fancy words, but in some sense, the realities of the situation have become unclear, and we are too far away from the everyday facts and the true level of youth unemployment – the gap is too wide.
Of course, we do have a lot of studies on the subject. We have a lot of reports on this issue, and they are constantly being produced, but it seems to me that, at the moment, there are more writers of reports than readers of them, let alone those that would implement their findings, and these are just the kind of people that we need. I might say that the most appalling experience a person can have is that of being on the outside, and today a significant number of European young people – 5.5 million – feel that they are outside this system, the European Union.
We are speaking here in this House, but I suspect that when we go outside the building, we will say that that is all very well, but Europe needs labour migration desperately, and we have to raise the age of retirement. By doing this, we seem to be seeking a solution to a contemporary problem while at the same time forgetting that young people are at risk of being excluded. That will cost us dear, and our future rests on the shoulders of the young and of children. That is why we need to reflect. It is true that it is an investment and that it takes money and effort, but we must do it – invest in the young and their education – so that there are real prospects and hope for the future in Europe.
Soon, we here in this House will be voting on the budget. That is one definite area where we can show whether we are investing more in research and development, innovation and education, or whether we are taking funding away from them, in the belief that the growth areas that would benefit our young people and employment should continue to be left alone.
In this connection, I hope that the debate that we are having here today is not just a conversation – a bit of a chat – but that a real change in direction can take place at EU level, that we will actually start paying attention to our young people. I hope that something tangible will start to appear in what we do there at grassroots level, so that no longer is any one life, any one young person, excluded, forced to remain on the outside, but that young people can experience what it is to live a full and secure life in the European Union and its Member States.
Emer Costello (S&D). – Madam President, I would like to thank the Commissioner for his attendance, and also my colleague, Pervenche Berès, for bringing this question forward.
I believe that young people are suffering disproportionately from the crisis that is facing Europe. Youth unemployment has really dramatic effects. It reduces career opportunities and it reduces earning power but, most importantly, it excludes young people from playing their role in society, and it is soul-destroying. As a result of youth unemployment in Ireland, which is at unprecedented levels, young talented people are leaving the country in droves, and they and their heartbroken families are aware of the reality that they are not taking a year out to travel, but are in fact emigrating to make new lives abroad.
Youth unemployment has serious economic consequences. It deprives society of the skills of young people who would, if they were able, put their talents and capabilities to good use. No society can be vibrant and dynamic, let alone competitive, if over 20% of its youth workforce is inactive. In March 2012, Eurostat put the Irish youth unemployment rate at over 30% – more than 73 000 people. Ireland’s rate is the fifth highest in the EU. In December 2011, the European NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training) survey put the economic cost, in terms of lost earnings and social transfers, at 2.1% of Ireland’s GDP. This was the highest figure for any EU Member State. But youth unemployment also has dramatic social consequences and, as previous speakers have pointed out, we risk the possibility of having a ‘lost generation’ of people who are completely disengaged.
Commissioner, I want to ask particularly about the Youth Guarantee. I do not believe that the EUR 4 million that has been set aside is sufficient, and I think we need to do more. I also want to question you about more flexibility in the Structural Funds, particularly in relation to financing, and finally to ask you, Commissioner, whether, on your study visits to the eight countries concerned, you have seen effective use of European Social Fund (ESF) funding, and what recommendations you are making to redirect some ESF funding.
Commissioner, I thank you for your attendance here today, but I think we have a lot more work to do on this subject.
Frédéric Daerden (S&D). – (FR) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, this evening, many of us have said this time and again, but it is necessary to repeat it: the situation of young Europeans is disastrous. Young people are unfairly paying a heavy cost for the crisis. Young people are increasingly turning away from the European project. It is unacceptable to talk of a sacrificed generation, of a generation abandoned to unemployment and precarious contracts. The fact is that a Europe that invests in its young people is a Europe that will return to growth, a Europe that will offer fresh hope to a generation – hope in the European model, in the values of solidarity. It is a Europe that fights against social exclusion and poverty. Let us therefore work together to make this Youth Guarantee system viable and a reality throughout Europe.
Commissioner, a number of ways of funding such a guarantee have been mentioned, with the European Social Fund (ESF), via the Programme for Social Change and Innovation, with or through other initiatives mentioned by my fellow Members. In conclusion, let us take practical and urgent action and mobilise the necessary funds.
Andrea Cozzolino (S&D). – (IT) Madam President, that the situation is dramatic is there for all to see. Add to this drama the fact that there is a clear gap between what we say, denounce and debate in this House and in the other European institutions and what we tangibly do for the younger generations in Europe. It is this gap that we have to close; this is the effort we have to make.
In this regard, I propose two questions and two corresponding suggestions. The first is this. Can we bring in a constraint, even a legally binding one, such that in the coming years or months, every euro spent must be on policies for youth employment, thus creating the conditions for a true European platform/plan for youth employment? Let us not forget that the resources at our disposal are very limited.
The second is that in the coming weeks, project bonds worth EUR 230 million are due to be issued. Can we give priority to projects which are able to increase youth employment in the short term?
Sylvana Rapti (S&D). – (EL) Madam President, yet again, we are debating the same old story. We talk about unemployment, but nothing happens. The numbers continue to illustrate that. One in five young people under the age of 25 in Europe is unemployed. In Greece, one in two young people does not have a job and the statistics are steadily getting worse.
In my opinion, this proves that we need to very carefully review both the programmes and how they are financed and the flexibility that we demonstrate on the question of take up, especially by Member States in difficulty due to the austerity packages imposed on them.
I worry about life outside this Chamber. When I asked a young unemployed person in Greece to tell me what to say in this debate in Parliament, he looked at me and said sarcastically, ‘Don’t say anything at all; you have never been unemployed and therefore have no idea what it is like to want to build a life and family and not be able to’.
Kinga Göncz (S&D). – (HU) Madam President, as mentioned on several occasions today, youth unemployment has reached alarming proportions in Europe, and this scenario is even more alarming if we look beyond the average figures.
What we are seeing is that differences between Member States in this regard have increased, and differences in opportunities have grown to vast extents even within individual Member States, especially to the detriment of those with low educational qualifications.
Young people’s sense of redundancy provides fertile soil for the dissemination of radical ideas, and is the cause of a great many personal tragedies. We have urgent practical tasks ahead of us; we must make use of the opportunities provided by the internal market to ensure that young people can be truly mobile, but must do so without causing countries with better labour market conditions to drain highly qualified youths away from countries with less favourable circumstances.
We must resolve the transition from education to the labour market, and must not draw away funds from education as seen in a great many countries; furthermore, we must pay particular attention to young people belonging to disadvantaged groups, such as the Roma, the disabled or immigrants. Only through a coordinated, targeted series of programmes can we prevent an entire generation from feeling lost, along with all the consequences this would entail.
(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))
Paul Rübig (PPE), Blue-card question. – (DE) Madam President, I should like to thank Ms Göncz, because naturally, the problem of how to reintegrate young unemployed people into the labour market is of top priority. Do you think that it would be possible and helpful to develop programmes at European level for young entrepreneurs, who could be specially trained and who would then be committed to employing other young people in their businesses?
Kinga Göncz (S&D), Blue-card answer. – (HU) I believe that the programme that was launched about two years ago, the Microcredit Programme, can provide excellent opportunities in this regard as well. It offers assistance precisely to those who would otherwise not be creditworthy; to those who, for the very reason that they are beginners or have perhaps come up with an idea that has not been tested yet, find it very difficult to obtain loans from banks.
I believe that if developed further in this respect, this programme could offer substantial assistance.
Iliana Malinova Iotova (S&D). – (BG) Madam President, Europe’s young people are those hit hardest by the severe financial and economic crisis, even though they are actually not to blame for this, and it is unfair that they are suffering the consequences. The big question at the moment is whether the European Union and Member States can help them in order to prevent a lost generation.
I would like to welcome the initiatives from the European Commission, but they are not enough. Action Teams can only be a temporary, support measure, but do not resolve the problems. The teams left when unemployment reached very high rates in these countries. I wish to ask the Commissioner today what preventive measures will be taken.
The Commission’s decision must be reviewed and countries like Bulgaria, which has the highest youth unemployment growth rate, need to be included, because tomorrow, this rate will pass the 30% mark and the cost will be even higher. This figure has doubled in two years, with well-educated young people increasingly often being left destitute. Inherited unemployment is rising.
It is time for the Commission to table EU legislation aimed at regulating the creation of industry and new jobs, providing reliefs and incentives for businesses which take on young people, and penalising firms which do not pay for traineeships and insurance contributions.
We cannot wait to see the transparent distribution of resources from the Structural Funds to create jobs for young people.
Sergio Gaetano Cofferati (S&D). – (IT) Madam President, Commissioner, as you know, work is not only an opportunity for drawing a salary so as to be able to live in dignity; it is also a time when people find fulfilment, growing in terms of psyche and character. Millions of young people today in Europe are being denied this possibility, while economic forecasts show that the problem is likely to increase, turning into a true emergency.
Since I believe that the high youth unemployment rate can only be solved through growth policies, we must make funds available in order to grow our economies. In the meantime, however, we need to give these young people some answers.
I think that in this time of crisis – nay, emergency – we should set ourselves just a few goals, or even consider ourselves to have just one priority: education. We have to help these young people stay longer in school, both in order to increase their knowledge so that they can provide the potential for the future of the European economy, and to help them become well-informed citizens. It is only by increasing their awareness that we can prevent them from becoming a social problem for their communities.
Elena Băsescu (PPE). – (RO) Madam President, I am pleased that Romania was not targeted by Mr Barroso’s letter, which means that it does not feature among the top eight EU countries with the highest youth unemployment rates. However, my country is also hit hard by this problem. I would like to stress three measures which I have mentioned on several occasions as a means of remedying this situation: re-establishing vocational and technical schools, encouraging young entrepreneurs and reducing the school dropout rate, especially among Roma. I should also emphasise how important apprenticeship schemes and training placements are.
In Romania, the law on apprenticeships was amended in 2011 to increase the chances of young people being taken on. The procedures involved have been simplified and the benefits increased for both employees and employers. Companies employing young people are also enjoying some incentives. Thanks to them, more than 10 000 young people entered the job market last year.
Elżbieta Katarzyna Łukacijewska (PPE). – (PL) Madam President, we all agree that the European Union’s biggest problem is not limiting carbon dioxide emissions, or the troubles facing Greece, but youth unemployment. I agree with the Commissioner that this problem will not disappear overnight, but, Commissioner, neither was it created overnight. This process has been ongoing for many years and I am interested to know what we have done during this time. I do not think that young people are eagerly awaiting our discussions and statements about how much unemployment there is, because everybody knows this. They are waiting for action, decisions and the effects of those decisions. What is apparent is the inability of the European Union and governments to resolve this problem and to take swift and effective action.
Initiatives such as the Youth opportunities initiative are very worthwhile, but, Commissioner, for how long will they be implemented and how soon will their effects be visible? Yesterday, we discussed small and medium-sized enterprises. Everyone agreed that their development is the best way to fight unemployment. Many people would like to create micro-enterprises, but do not have the funds to do so, so I would like to ask what action the European Commission will take, and how quickly?
Evelyn Regner (S&D). – (DE) Madam President, I have rarely heard the Members of this House so united and speaking so passionately on a subject. The fact that 7.5 million young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are unemployed is frightening. We are not simply at risk of having a lost generation; we already have one in some of the countries of Europe.
The Commission has failed here, but so, too, have all the countries that are not making measures to combat youth unemployment a priority. Youth unemployment is not a national problem, but a European one; and so we need to act immediately, as well as in the medium and long term. The funding needed is there, after all. We could distribute EUR 10 billion from the unutilised resources of the European Stability Funds (ESF) alone. Further funding could be transferred from the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund in order to finance and develop a training and employment guarantee for young people.
Commissioner, you have heard our heartfelt pleas today, and an overwhelming majority of the members of the European Parliament that are here will support you in taking effective measures.
Luís Paulo Alves (S&D). – (PT) Madam President, the shocking fact is that a generation of young people is being called the lost generation, as they are being forced to emigrate from my country. Aside from the human drama and social and economic problems caused by their absence, it will also create a generation gap, with unpredictable consequences for Portugal’s much-needed economic recovery. President Barroso’s concerns have been raised at an opportune moment, but they must be extended to the regions. I am aware that in March, the Azores presented the Portuguese Government with a programme for using proposed instruments to combat the terrible scourge of youth unemployment, which the crisis has brought to the region. We now hope that the Portuguese Government will include these instruments in its national plan with the speed recommended by the President of the Commission, and that Portugal and the other Member States will soon be able to provide the responses that young Europeans so desperately need, and which the European project cannot refuse. I would also ask the Commission whether it has any information as yet about its plans for Portugal.
Izaskun Bilbao Barandica (ALDE). – (ES) Madam President, Commissioner, thank you very much for your explanations.
Today’s debate is not unrelated to the debates on austerity, growth and the need for plans to stimulate employment in the EU.
However, I believe, Commissioner, that out of political and personal decency, the time has come to say that the EU Member States that are experiencing this situation, and which are the native countries of those who have spoken, are the same Member States that need to replace their production model with another type of model in order to generate employment and put an end to the situation that has been caused in recent years. Therefore, we, too, should do the decent thing. It would be easier for me to indulge in demagoguery, but that is what we have learnt from past measures.
As we have to look to the future, I believe that firstly, we should reject and eliminate the expression ‘lost generation’. In my view, the European institutions and the Member States have a responsibility to restore the dignity of young people by any means possible and with the collaboration of the EU, the Member States and the regions.
To that end, I would like to ask the Commissioner if he believes that this is compatible, and how effective these pilot programmes will be in precisely those Member States that have been forced by austerity to reduce their budgets for training, innovation and youth employment, and if he believes that these youth policies should be applied transversally, with the collaboration of all the EU Commissioners, in order for them to have a multiplier effect.
Elena Oana Antonescu (PPE). – (RO) Madam President, the number of young people finding it hard to enter the job market and pursue a career is rising in almost every EU Member State. This is mainly down to the decrease in opportunities for economic development. In states hit hard by the crisis, the youth unemployment rate is dramatically approaching 50%, which requires urgent measures to be adopted by the authorities. It is of paramount importance that the efforts of national players, backed up by support from the Commission, focus on channelling European funds into improving this situation. The way in which we can use the economic potential generated by talented young people will determine Europe’s sustainable development in the long term.
I believe that our approach needs to focus on the link between education requirements, young people’s expectations and, in particular, on the needs of the labour market. We must concentrate on preventing young people from dropping out of school and on developing school curricula to match the labour market’s specific needs. The lack of correlation between education systems and the needs and expectations of employers in terms of applicants’ skills is one of the biggest problems.
Georgios Papanikolaou (PPE). – (EL) Madam President, Commissioner, once again, everything you have announced to us today is of the utmost importance and we eagerly await the reports by the Action Teams in the eight Member States. We have some facts already, but expect a lot more. Naturally, despite these measures, it would appear – from what my colleagues have said – that we agree that we are not doing enough, because the numbers are getting worse and the situation is not getting any better. We refer, of course, to the risk of a lost generation, because there is a deeply disappointed generation of young people throughout Europe. However, at the same time, our resolutions contain something further; the fact that, in certain sectors, we need manpower from legal immigration, because we do not have the skills in Europe and because we have a serious demographic problem. Perhaps, Commissioner, we should engage in a little self-criticism. Perhaps we should review our policies. How hard can it be to combine the colossal problem of a lost generation of young people, which is a real threat, with unemployment in Spain and Greece of 50% or more, and with equally poor figures in other countries, with what we say on the other hand, about shortfalls in certain sectors? How hard can that be?
Inês Cristina Zuber (GUE/NGL). – (PT) Madam President, youth unemployment is undoubtedly one of the scourges of the EU. Average youth unemployment in the EU is 22.4%, although that figure is likely to be much higher in reality. Young people, including those who are highly skilled, are experiencing a tragedy of precariousness, instability and uncertainty about their future. The EU budget must be increased in general, and should prioritise promoting employment, creating jobs and redistributing its resources to countries where this problem is most prevalent. However, let us not deceive ourselves. It is not possible to create jobs unless a clean break is made with the so-called austerity policies supported by the majority in Parliament, through policies of economic governance, the Stability and Growth Pact and the fiscal compact. Reducing wages and pensions, discontinuing public services, privatisation and deregulating labour laws as part of reforms will only lead to an endless spiral of economic recession and unemployment.
Those who wish seriously to discuss the problem of youth unemployment cannot also be complacent and support and condone the policies that are destroying jobs every day, thereby shattering the dreams, rights and futures of today’s young people.
Jaroslav Paška (EFD). – (SK) Madam President, I welcome the Commission’s programme, which should help change the high unemployment rate among young people by redirecting unspent resources from the Structural Funds to new projects aiming to increase youth employment. However, I think it is very important also to focus on concrete measures and programmes that the Commission wants to promote. However, financial support intended for an employer to pay the wages of a newly-employed young person can lead to the speculative dismissal of older employees in order to obtain this EU contribution for jobs for young people. I think that support should be provided only when it can unambiguously be proven that it is for newly created jobs for young people that will be sustainable in the long term and that will provide young people with stable employment with prospects for their further professional growth. It should not be an exercise in the populist spending of taxpayers’ money, but a matter-of-fact resolution of a serious problem.
Josef Weidenholzer (S&D). – (DE) Madam President, rising youth unemployment is the absolute scandal of our times. Youth unemployment not only means being unable to earn a living; it also destroys opportunities to develop. Above all, however, it undermines the credibility of the democratic system. For this reason, it is also cynical, as is repeated like a mantra by the neoclassical school, to make young people solely responsible for finding jobs. The continual rise in youth unemployment must be combated by political means and put at the heart of European policy. I can only wonder why so little attention has been paid to this problem until now, and I also find it hard to comprehend that there are substantial resources in the European funds that could be utilised at any time.
The significance of the problem, however, means that additional funding is also required. Above all, young people should be given clear prospects by us giving them an employment guarantee. This can be financed and, in any event, is cheaper than unemployment.
Eija-Riitta Korhola (PPE). – (FI) Madam President, we really need economic growth to help young people, but recently, I have been amazed at how often the word ‘growth’ in political parlance means the same as recovery. Obviously, that cannot be the solution: that is not real growth. Increasing public finances is living off the future, living at the expense of precisely these young people, and borrowing from them and from their future. That is why we need genuine growth.
We need to focus attention, for example, on the importance of the fact that unpaid work experience for the young should once again be a real gateway to proper employment, that contacts between the education system and the labour market should be improved, that more attention should be paid to informal training, and that special help should be given to young people who are particularly vulnerable, such as young mothers, those representing minorities, immigrants and the disabled.
I am therefore very pleased that the President of the Commission has adopted a robust position on youth unemployment, and it is good that Mr Barroso’s letter to the eight Member States that are suffering the worst has produced a result.
Petru Constantin Luhan (PPE). – (RO) Madam President, in the current situation, we cannot ignore the fact that the youth unemployment rate is approaching 50%. The support which we would like to offer on behalf of the European institutions must materialise without delay. The criteria which employers require nowadays are almost impossible to meet in terms of the applicants’ abilities and the criteria which they need to fulfil. I am referring here to the point that some employers expect graduates to be perhaps 25 years old with 10 years’ professional experience.
This situation is not possible, which is why a European regulation is required. Even those who have not obtained a degree in higher education can be accommodated in the various programmes specially tailored for young people. The problem is not the latter’s ability to learn and understand, but lies with employers. This is why I call for programmes specially reserved for young people so that they can enter employment, thereby providing a solution to the unemployment problem.
Iosif Matula (PPE). – (RO) Madam President, one of the targets which we have set ourselves is to achieve a higher percentage of higher education graduates. Unfortunately, the current situation indicates that young people are failing even to make use of the studies they have completed, having to accept jobs far below their qualifications. This is tantamount to a waste of the money Member States have invested in education and sounds an alarm bell for us to adapt the curriculum urgently to the needs of the labour market.
To be able to achieve the targets set out in the Europe 2020 strategy, we need to allocate considerable funds to provide young people with practical training and to lifelong learning programmes. I think that we can tackle the problem of youth unemployment by increasing the level of cofinancing for the Structural Funds. Another important area we need to focus on is to involve young people in research and innovation for promoting technological development so that we become more competitive economically at a global level.
Anna Záborská (PPE). – (SK) Madam President, I wonder why so many young people are unemployed today. The real problem is not a lack of preparation for the labour market, but the fact that companies are unable to hire new workers. The reason is the low competitiveness of a growing number of European companies. In many cases, this has to do with rising costs, which result from a combination of high taxes, Europe’s unilateral commitment to reducing CO2 production and, above all, high social claims by employees, which are not balanced by productivity. Everyone wants German pay, German hospitals and German pensions, but no one is concerned that they are not achieving German productivity.
End of the catch-the-eye procedure
László Andor, Member of the Commission. – Madam President, I am afraid that the two-minute time limit I was given is very short. I will do my best to answer as fully as possible, especially for those who have stayed until the end of the discussion, but I am afraid that I will need a little more time.
First of all, I am very grateful to those who noticed that in my introduction, I spoke about action: many actions which we have already taken and to which we are already committed. I can give a more detailed reply on three areas and also some more information than was given in the introduction, starting with the Youth Guarantee.
You probably know that this is not the first time the Commission has launched a discussion on the Member States and the Youth Guarantee. Thanks to Ms Turunen and others in this House, we included the Youth Guarantee in the Europe 2020 flagship initiative and we immediately launched a debate. To be very frank with you, it bounced back from the Member States because there was a lot of complacency that the recovery would resolve all the problems automatically. Now we have relaunched it and, thanks to the Danish Presidency, there has already been a very constructive debate in Council about the Youth Guarantee. In my view, there is an emerging consensus. Of course, we have to discuss many details, but I am very hopeful that we can reach a constructive conclusion on this by the end of this year.
Regarding the funds, they are very important and we have done a lot of work, especially in the eight countries, for reallocation. I gave you a figure in my introduction. It applies not only to the European Social Fund, but also to the Regional Development Fund, because sometimes, there is a need to cross the border between the two.
There are some very good projects – that was also a question – which I saw myself, like the one in Tuscany. This is a regionally organised programme which gives a lot of support to young people to start their career, to begin living independently and to receive training. I also discussed with Minister Diamantopoulou a new ESF programme on start-ups in Greece, which is also supported by the ESF and can be launched. In these countries, we have indeed made a lot of progress in implementing the ESF as regards speed and quality. Despite the crisis, this has been possible.
Nevertheless, I would urge a certain amount of caution. This reallocation of the funds is possible and makes a difference. We can reallocate to more efficient and more effective projects, but this is not a magic solution. It is also important to know that a certain merit and benefit of the Structural Funds is that there is long-term planning with this fund and that the Member States and the regions can rely on these programmes. I am also aware of programmes and new initiatives in other countries. In reply to Mr Alves, from Portugal, I recently received two state secretaries and if you contact my Chef de Cabinet, we can give you much more concrete information about our engagement with Portugal.
However, let me come to a third issue which was also the subject of heated debate. This is the employment potential of SMEs or companies in general. In my view, so-called red tape is not the main issue. It is probably a negligible issue if it is an issue at all. The main issue is access to credit. The problem is that the banking system and the financial sector in general has been paralysed and does not properly finance SMEs and sometimes other companies either. That is why we have to do a lot more about banking regulation to ensure that the banks can revive themselves and then they will be able to support the real economy. That is why the microfinance initiative – for which we also thank the Parliament – is so important because it can make a difference in a sector where the standard mainstream financial sector is incapable of supporting micro and small enterprises, especially in disadvantaged and marginalised communities.
I would like to see a discussion which is focused on the real obstacles, as well as cooperation to eliminate these real obstacles, rather than shadow boxing. I would like to make one more point on more general terms. I very much agree with those who frame the discussion in the context of the general discussion on employment and growth in the European Union today. I think this is extremely important. Why? Because in the countries of the EU where youth unemployment is excessively high – terribly high, particularly in Spain and Greece – there is not just one problem. We discussed many: education and training; school to work policies, or the lack thereof; segmentation of the labour market, which labour market reforms inside the Member States will help to sort out. That is why the reform in Italy is so important, because it will also help the young people. I hope that this reform will be concluded successfully very soon.
But it is also very important to notice that we are speaking about a gap between the financially stable countries of the EU and the peripheries, which are under constant financial stress. If you look at the list of the eight countries, we are talking about the so-called periphery of the European Union. The big problem is that, until now, there has been no macro-economic policy in the European Union able to establish cohesion and bridge the gap between the core and the peripheries. These policies, which block the growth potential of the peripheries and keep them in a permanent recession, do not originate from the Commission. These policies – to be very frank with you, Mr Becker – originate from Berlin. Mr Becker, Mr Mann, Ms Steinruck, Mr Händel, you are MEPs, but you also have a right to speak in your national parliaments. Please help the Bundestag and the Chancellor to understand the economics of the European Union and help them in making the right decision.
The time has come. The most important meeting is tonight, partly here, but also in Brussels. The time has come to change the macro-economic policies, to allow the peripheral countries and regions of the European Union to regain their growth potential and provide job opportunities for people, and especially for young people who are now excessively affected by unemployment.
This is my conclusion for today, and I thank you for this extremely important discussion.
President. – I have received one motion for a resolution(1) tabled in accordance with Rule 115(5) of the Rules of Procedure.
The debate is closed.
The vote will take place on Thursday, 24 May 2012, at 12.00.
Written statements (Rule 149)
Vilija Blinkevičiūtė (S&D), in writing. – (LT) I am really pleased that at the end of last year, having published its new communication entitled Youth opportunities initiative, the European Commission began to promote additional coordination and financing instruments for youth employment in the Member States because, as we all know, 5.5 million young people are unemployed, that is, one in five young people under 25 cannot find a job. We all know that the situation is particularly complicated in eight Member States. It is very important to know how the national governments of these countries are managing to address the issue of youth unemployment by using European Social Fund 2007-2013 funds not yet allocated to projects and providing technical assistance to people starting up businesses. We must encourage young people to create new jobs. Another point that I would like to focus on is cooperation. Only by working together can we achieve good results. In order to reduce youth unemployment, we must first send those who do not have a secondary education back to school, and also create the conditions for young people to move from education and studies to the labour market. We must ensure that young people who have completed their studies have the opportunity to obtain work experience which is demanded by the majority of employers. We also have to promote cooperation between the public sector, higher education institutions and business so that young people in higher education acquire knowledge and skills that meet employers’ requirements and market demand. I believe that the measures laid down in the Youth opportunities initiative should help to address these problems.
Salvatore Iacolino (PPE), in writing. – (IT) OECD data on youth unemployment in the EU, which stands at around 22%, contrast with the provisions of Article 165(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which sets out a number of actions at European level regarding young people, their education, employment and vocational training. Initiatives for growth, in this sense, are fundamental factors in the coordinated and harmonious development of the EU single market. Intelligent, sustainable and inclusive growth are three main objectives for developing an economy based on knowledge and innovation and, at the same time, fostering a high-employment economy delivering social and territorial cohesion. These objectives are pursuable only through effective and efficient use of EU funds, in particular, the Structural Funds, of which EUR 82 billion remains unspent, much of which could be aimed at young people, in particular through small and medium-sized enterprises, thereby contributing to the creation of employment opportunities. I am therefore in favour of a future policy providing opportunities for young people by identifying further and more ambitious funding sources to help them to cope with high youth unemployment. I also consider it essential to allocate significant resources when drawing up the 2014-2020 financial framework, focusing on young people who are not in employment, education or training.
Krzysztof Lisek (PPE), in writing. – (PL) When discussing youth employment, we need, above all, to be aware of the enormous differences between Member States in terms of unemployment rates in the 15-24 age group. While it exceeds 50% in Greece and Spain, it is only around 8% in Germany and Austria, and – which is noteworthy – almost at exactly the same level as the unemployment rate for the whole of society. This shows that unemployment in these countries does not affect young people to a greater extent than other age groups, which is exceptional in some ways. Young people looking for employment whilst still studying, or immediately upon completion of their studies, are not an attractive group for employers in view of their lack of experience, which puts them at a disadvantage in the face of competition from older and, of course, more experienced candidates. There are few young people whose jobs are commensurate with their competences and education, whilst also being permanent jobs with decent pay. We should therefore ensure that young people have as much access as possible to various types of traineeships and work experience while studying, which makes it easier to move later between education and the labour market. Programmes which are already in place such as Leonardo da Vinci and Erasmus for entrepreneurs require not only significant funding from the EU budget, but also promotion in the Member States.
Artur Zasada (PPE), in writing. – (PL) The Youth opportunities initiative is a concrete response to the phenomenon of youth unemployment, which not only remains high in developed countries, but is growing steadily. This is due not only to the crisis and budgetary discipline, but primarily to deep structural problems, including a failure on the part of the labour market and the education system to adapt and be flexible. For many years, we have seen a discrepancy between the financial expectations of our young people and their actual skills, experience and qualifications. We should therefore encourage and support this initiative, which involves the implementation of a series of measures aimed at improving the situation of young people in the labour market. It is time for a realistic and concrete prevention strategy, i.e. greater use of ESF funds, assistance in finding a first job abroad through the Eures system, the establishment of an efficient system of international work experience for school pupils and internships for young entrepreneurs through Leonardo da Vinci and Erasmus, and an extension of the European Voluntary Service Programme. In countries where the educational system is coordinated with industry, for example, by means of ongoing programmes of work experience or recruitment obligations incumbent upon civil society institutions, school leavers and graduates are in a better position when looking for a job and the unemployment rate for those under 25 years of age has fallen to a few percent.