EurActiv - Letters to the Editor

Sir,

Regarding ‘EU leaders to end dispute over 2020 targets‘:

On 17 June the European Council adopted the long-awaited new EU strategy for jobs and growth. So what is this ‘Europe 2020’ strategy? It is presented as a 10-year strategy and a set of targets to rejuvenate the EU economy and equip Europe with the tools to tackle the economic crisis and be ready for future challenges.

Is this really going to change anything for young Europeans? That depends who you talk to. Here at the European Youth Forum, we feel very strongly that ‘Europe 2020’ should not and cannot be just another economic plan. We have argued that it must be inclusive and encompass all areas of life. It must aim at improving the quality of life of all and not just that of European business. Young people in Europe are ready and willing to contribute to the smart, sustainable and inclusive growth that the strategy aspires to. But first, in return, they need a strong commitment from the member states towards education, jobs and the reconciliation of their working and private lives.

So what are the ‘youth’ aspects of Europe 2020? Youth has been given a welcome fair share of attention in the Europe 2020 strategy, notably through the ‘Youth on the Move’ Flagship Initiative, which aims to “enhance the performance of education systems and to facilitate the entry of young people into the labour market”, and in the headline target on employment, where young people are mentioned as a specific target group for better participation.

Europe 2020 and Youth on the Move have the potential to become an effective weapon for attacking the unacceptable level of youth unemployment, which the latest figures show approaching a historical high of over 20% in the EU. But to do so, their implementation will have to be closely followed and measured to ensure that they are having a real effect on the lives of young people, equipping them with the adequate skills and competencies to be confident and competitive to take their rightful place in society.

An important youth aspect of the Europe 2020 strategy are the education targets. After much political debate on the EU’s legal right to set such targets, the heads of state succeeded in committing to a 10% reduction in premature school leavers and a 40% rise in university graduates and higher vocational training. Over time, this could make a dramatic difference in our societies. Education is critical for the knowledge society that Europe is aspiring to become and could unlock the path to steady economic growth.

The interest of the Europe 2020 strategy for youth does not lie only in the programmes tackling youth unemployment and providing quality internships and education. Other elements of Europe 2020, while not directly aimed at youth, will have a big impact on their lives and should be of real concern to all young people.

An example: building a sustainable society obviously concerns everyone, but success or failure here will affect today’s young people more than their parents, especially when it comes to combating climate change and reaching the 20/20/20 targets for climate and energy. It is young people and the future generations that will face the fallout from the mistakes of today’s decision-makers.

Comparisons will obviously be made with the Lisbon Strategy and the European Youth Pact that accompanied it in 2005. Europe 2020 gives little emphasis to enabling a genuine reconciliation between working and family life at European level, which was a cornerstone of the European Youth Pact. Although it gets a mention in the Integrated Guidelines and recommendations to member states, the gender perspective, for instance, is much less in evidence in the new Strategy.

Young people had high expectations of the 2005 European Youth Pact. Their hopes were not realised. Today they will look for tangible results from Europe 2020, with its promises of a new pact for young people, to build a future that is economically viable, ecological and socially inclusive. They will not be palmed off with empty phrases.

European Youth Forum

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