Europe’s young generation demands minimum wage for internships

Young Europeans propose measures to fight youth unemployment

Participants of Citizens’ Agora 2013 (© European Parliament)

Young citizens from across the European Union have put forward recommendations to tackle the record youth unemployment. Key proposals include control over a part of the youth unemployment budget, a minimum wage for internships and better recognition of volunteering.

Some 60 young people from different member states came together in Brussels for the Citizens’ Agora 2013, an event hosted by the European Parliament, and decided on several measures (PDF version) to battle youth unemployment.

Although I doubt that a meeting organised by EU authorities can really help Europe’s youth to find a common voice, some of the proposals are definitely interesting:

  • a minimum pay for internships
  • professional guidance and a mentor free of charge
  • mutual recognition of qualifications across all member states (including skills from volunteering)
  • a European-wide, free of charge, language learning system
  • a EU platform providing information about career and training opportunities
  • involve young people in the decision-making process and give them control over a small part of the Youth Employment Initiative budget

The heads of the member states will have to prove if they take the young generation’s proposals serious at the conference on youth unemployment in Paris on 12 November.

In any case, a meeting like this can only be a first step in a discussion about European youth unemployment. I consider it essential that young people are allowed to take part in these discussions because they should have a right to decide on their future. However, young people have yet to prove that they can play a constructive role in policy-making and not only demonstrate on the streets.

Youth unemployment in the European Union is now at a record-high of just above 23 per cent, according to Eurostat figures. In the crisis hit countries Greece and Spain over half of the under 25s are without a job, while only Germany and Austria have youth unemployment rates under 10 per cent.

Video about the Citizens’ Agora (by the European Parliament):

Here are some statements by young Europeans who took part in Citizens’ Agora:

Ricardo Rosas, 22, employed, from Spain: “I think that the EU should push member states to put in place concrete measures for young people who have just finished university and lack work experience.”

Jan Verlaak, 24, employed, from Belgium: “An entrepreneurial mind-set around Europe should be created and the mentalities changed: it’s not only about strict measures.”

Junior Sikabwe, 23 from Denmark, doing an unpaid traineeship: “I don’t think the EU can do something very concrete, but it could set a framework of how to fight youth unemployment. Problems are different in each country. There is no unique solution.”

Guillaume Vimont, a 31-year-old job seeker from France: “The EU must fight against tax evasion and fraud. It represents a lot of money today that could be used for other things.”

Tania Del Sarto, 27, employed from Italy: “The problem is that education is far from the demands of the labour market. We need to change that. Schools in Italy do not reflect real life and real jobs.”

Maria Djurhuus Petersen, 27, employed, from Denmark: “The internships are both a solution and a problem. The EU should try to push countries to provide more useful internships and transform them into real jobs.”

What should the European Union in your opinion do to fight youth unemployment?

Unemployment in Europe will stay high for years

The unemployment rate in the European Union will stay around 12 per cent until 2015, although the EU has reached an economic “turning point”, according to commissioner Olli Rehn.

In fact, the European Commission’s economic forecast, which was presented today, supports Rehn’s statement, predicting the eurozone’s GDP to grow by 1.1 per cent in 2014 and 1.7 per cent in 2015.

Europe’s jobless, however, will have to wait until the strengthening economy will affect them: The unemployment rate, currently just above 12 per cent, will drop slightly to 11.8 per cent by 2015.

“We are seeing clear signs of an economic turnaround but growth will pick up only gradually and will translate into jobs only with lag and that’s why we cannot yet declare victory and we must not fall into the trap of complacency”, Rehn said at the presentation of the newest forecast.

While Rehn focussed on the positive aspects of the economic recovery, experts are less convinced of the progress made. ING chief economist Carsten Brzeski told EUobserver that the commission forecasts “reflect the sad truth about the European recovery. It is a very slow, fragile and anaemic recovery.”

One glimmer of hope is that also crisis-struck countries like Greece and Spain are expected to grow their economies in the near future, even if a lot less than, for example, Germany (overview of forecasts for single EU member states).

EU free trade agreement with Canada – Q&A

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso called the agreement “highly ambitious and far-reaching“ and „of great importance for the EU’s economy“. What does the agreement mean for Europe? In this post I try to answer the most important questions about the deal:

What will the free trade agreement change?

The key elements of the trade agreement are aimed at eliminating duties between the two trade partners. This means that EU exporters will not have to pay tariffs anymore when selling goods on the Canadian market and vice versa.

Furthermore, the EU and Canada hope to encourage bilateral investment.

Who will profit?

The European Union and Canada claim that both countries will profit from free trade. The EU expects the agreement to increase bilateral trade by roughly €25 billion, which is just below one quarter of the current trade volume.

So everybody is happy?

Almost everybody. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper still has to deal with some interest groups that are not completely happy with the agreement – for instance, Canadian dairy farmers. Their concerns about negative economic effects were one of the reasons why the free trade negotiations took two years longer than originally planned. Concessions in the agricultural part of the agreement were made, but the Canadian provinces are yet to approve the deal.

Canadian cheese

CC verifex via Flickr

Euro zone inflation falls to 1.1 per cent

Euro zone inflation dropped to its lowest value in more than three years. According to Eurostat figures, the annual inflation rate was 1.1 per cent in September, down from 1.3 per cent in August.

Inflation in the whole European Union showed a similar development: It fell from 1.5 per cent in August to 1.3 per cent in September.

The inflation rate was highest in the UK with 2.7 per cent, followed by Estonia (2.6 per cent) and the Netherlands (2.4 per cent). The three countries with the lowest rate, Bulgaria (-1.3 per cent), Greece (-1.0 per cent) and Latvia (-0.4 per cent), even had deflationary prices.

The current inflation rate is well below the European Central Bank’s (ECB) aim of “close to, but below 2 per cent”.

What does the low inflation rate mean?

The Financial Times identified possible negative effects of continuous low inflation:

According to the FT, disinflation (falling inflation) would particularly hit the Euro zone’s crisis countries like Spain and Greece. In those countries, high inflation would “disinflate” debt and therefore make it easier for them improve ratio of debt and gross domestic income.

In case of deflation the Euro zone could even fall back into recession, the paper says admitting that this would be an “extreme case”.

Openeuropeblog identifies the differences in EU countries as a major problem for the ECB to tackle the inflation: North-European countries have significantly higher rates than the south-European crisis countries. ECB measures could consequently lead to quite different outcomes in the different countries.

The ECB itself expects inflation to stay low in the coming months, but does not see reasons for concern: ECB president Mario Draghi considers the medium-term risks as “broadly balanced”.

This might, however, change if the current trend of falling inflation rates continues longer than the ECB expects.

Financial crisis increased EU regions’ unemployment gap

The unemployment gap between economically weak and strong regions in the European Union increased during the financial crisis, Eurostat figures show.

The statistical office of the European Union published its Regional Yearbook 2013 (PDF version) today. The yearbook shows the development of figures related to economy, population, health, labour markets, education and a few more in 272 regions within the 27 European member states from 2008 and 2011.

Regions in south-European countries like Italy and Spain particularly suffered from drifting unemployment rates. In contrast, central and north-European countries showed a more homogenous development of employment figures.

Eurostat measures the dispersion of regional employment with a percentage – the smaller the value, the smaller the difference of different regions’ unemployment rates.

By 2007, this dispersion rate had fallen to a record low of 11.1%. During the financial crisis, however, it began rising steadily and reached 12.5% in 2011.

The rise was not distributed evenly over EU member states. Only half of the states for which data was available – the dispersion rates cannot be measured in some of the European Union’s smaller states – show increasing percentages, among them Italy, Spain, Romania and Bulgaria.

Contrary to this, many central and north-European member states saw narrowing differences across their regions.

The European Union seeks to reduce gaps between unemployment rates in different EU regions. However, narrowing unemployment gaps do not necessarily mean that weaker regions catch up. It can also occur when stronger regions fall back on economic growth.

In about two thirds of the 272 European regions, fewer people had a job in 2011 than three years earlier. Eurostat offers an informative map of its regional statistics here.