by Georgios Chatzigeorgiou

We have all heard of the term Generation Y, the demographic cohort born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s. Generation Y is better educated than any that preceded it, grew up with the internet, and travelled abroad. Our ambitions are set very high. We also grew up with the European Union as a perfectly normal part of our lives and accustomed to peace. The fall of the Iron Curtain is at best a childhood memory. Young Europeans today enjoy greater freedoms than ever before, may travel, study and work anywhere in Europe and for many of us, the only currency we consciously remember is the Euro. We should be very proud of what we have achieved.

Nevertheless, over the last years, the EU has been facing an unprecedented crisis. After the euphoria of the 1980s and the accomplishment of the European Monetary Union in the 1990s, it can be argued that the European project has lost much of its dynamism. The global financial crisis has caused considerable problems in many parts of Europe and its impact on socio-economic developments has been immense. As a consequence, the polarisation between the Mediterranean regions and more prosperous North-Western Europe has been exacerbated. Unsurprisingly, the economic situation has sparked widespread political reaction. Together with renewed terrorist threats and a huge influx of refugees into Europe, it has caused a domino effect allowing populist parties to attract voters with their nativist and eurosceptic positions. They will likely continue to do so as long as the above problems remain policy priorities. The idea of a “United Europe”, as proclaimed by Winston Churchill and the other founding fathers of the European Union, is being challenged.

Generation Y is thus also the generation which has experienced a long-standing period of crisis, without having had a say in the creation of the system that caused it. On average, we are faced with unprecedented youth unemployment. We are the ones who suffered most from social, ecological and political decisions taken by our elders.

In order to shape a Europe that fits our needs, several actions must be taken. First of all however, we need vision and the motivation to take those actions. For the purposes of this brief paper, I chose to discuss three areas of actions which in my opinion can shape the future of young Europeans at a critical juncture in the history of our continent.

Youth Engagement in Democratic Life

According to a study by the European Youth Forum, 72 per cent of 16/18 to 24 years old did not vote in the 2014 European elections, while more than 50 per cent of 65+ olds did. Such figures are unacceptable. If young people want politics to change, they must also be willing to participate. Young people have different perspectives and a host of different ideas: by voicing their opinions, we could move the political world forward and avoid generation gap issues. This is not merely good, but necessary for society.

Approximately 30 per cent of Europeans are below the age of 30. This age group should be adequately represented in national and European Parliaments which is not the case today. Although youth quotas are used as a means to elect more young parliamentarians in certain countries, the majority of these limited seats are allocated to candidates pushing the boundaries of the concept of “young”, often defined as under 45 years old. All European countries should introduce quotas for young people of maximum 35 years of age.

Although today’s youth has been given a bad name, there are still many who believe that young people can and should play an important role in politics. The assistance of the state in achieving this is essential. Further, in line with the digital revolution, it is time to embrace e-voting to encourage higher turnouts. Research indicates that young people were more than half as likely to turn out for an online ballot than vote at a polling station. It further alludes that people who vote online are more likely to hesitate on what to vote. Lastly, more research should be done in relation to lowering the voting age to 16 which could, in conjunction with a proper political and civic education at schools, instill a habit of voting in young people and encourage them to become involved with decision-making. Evidence indicates that Austria has so far been quite successful with that experiment.

European Single Market and TTIP

While the Single European Market remains a project of continuous creation, it has already transformed the way Europeans live or do business. It can be accessed by over 500 million people in 28 EU Member States and has helped to create approximately 3 million jobs. Today, about 1 in 10 jobs are dependent on exports in other EU countries.

I strongly support the completion and expansion of the common market into the services sector. Further, if we are now seeking to expand this market via TTIP, I consider this to be nothing more than a reasonable consequence of the EU Single Market. Similarly, we want to remove barriers to other markets in order to simplify trade between these markets and drive growth. Growth and job creation go hand in hand and TTIP thus has the potential to become a job catalyst.

Likewise, SMEs currently constitute about 85 per of companies and employ two-third of workers in the EU, yet are not active in the transatlantic arena.

If we help SMEs to grow by expanding into the enormous US market, this can be a major part of the solution to unemployment in the EU. It is not the purpose of this paper to analyse the TTIP agreement, the transparency of its negotiation or the ISDS mechanism. However, I must highlight that the Commission has no mandate to negotiate anything that would lower labour standards in Europe, including the number of jobs. In my opinion, TTIP is a once in a generation opportunity and we would be at least naive not to seize it.

I provided some short views on how to shape Europe to the needs of our generation and I would like to express my optimism for the future. We should not forget that our ancestors set about to build a peaceful Europe for their children. Those children for whom the European project was made are we, and now we are the ones to decide what to do: I choose to use Europe to make our life better and more prosperous.

23 February 2016
63
This text was published in Bullseye issue 63