I remember walking into a briefing on the Erasmus scheme while at university. I remember thinking this scheme reflected the principles of the European Union — uniting Europeans from all backgrounds behind a common identity by creating it together. The film, the “Auberge Espagnole”, itself epitomised this Erasmus experience of what the European good society could look like. But did it really reflect how young people lived their lives in the noughties?
What else united young Europeans? More and more us got places at university, more and more us got into debt paying for tuition fees and more and more of us were betrayed by the myth that graduates would get graduate jobs. The only bar we had a chance of practising at was at the local pub, bistrot or discoteca. All we’ve done is wait. Wait by the phone in the hope of a job, wait restaurant tables to pay the bills and wait in the queue for the dole.
For those who of us who couldn’t get into university, we were promised that employers preferred vocational skills to degrees, so more and more of us took up apprenticeships. The only vocation that united us was trying to hard to please the employers who ignored these new diplomas and preferred recruiting from their old boys networks.
To stop the rise in youth unemployment, governments traded off our wellbeing with employers by allowing them to pay us as little as possible. In many cases we were paid less than the minimum allowed, providing loopholes for the most powerful professions — accountants, lawyers and politicians — to recruit first class talent on pocket money wages. Despite our governments’ blind belief in economic growth, wages in relation to the cost of living fell. We became the “Generation Precaire”.
And now the recession’s turned up on our doorstep, young workers are the first to be shown the door. Youth unemployment has shot up across the continent — between 30 to 40% of young people are out of work in most of Europe and that’s not even including all those who graduated this autumn and have just joined the queue.
We may look back at the noughties and forget the fads that came and went — from Big Brother to X Factor — but we won’t forget being unemployed even when we get older. Not being in work means we lose valuable experience and training and even when we get a job, we’re going to go back to the cycle of low self esteem and lack of job security, low wages and lack of career advancement.
As a generation, we don’t know where to turn back to. Like other under-represented groups in the places of power, young people are marginalised. In politics, we are too often restricted to “youth issues”. In the economy, we are treated as ideal bait for consumption. In society we are asked to wait our turn, we are the “next generation”, but next never means now.
It’s partly why we are least likely to take part in the structures defined by the generation that preceded them — such as political parties and trade unions. With the crisis we face, people are crying out for a new way of doing politics. It’s not that young people aren’t interested in politics, it’s that they see no way of being able to make change happen.
That’s why so many are refusing the compromises of the centre left and putting their trust in the parties on the fringes — from the greens to the far left, just look at the recent election results in Germany and France. Many more aren’t even bothering to vote and instead taking to the streets to fight the marketisation of their education, storming the runways to make sure future generations don’t pay the price.
Our grandparent’s generation fought and got the welfare state, our parents took to the streets for individual liberties. The challenges for our generation can only be solved by working together across borders. Only doing this can provide us with a decent future across Europe.