By Irene Dominioni
Tackling the theme of youth inequalities in Europe is certainly not an easy task. First of all, because the EU is made of single States who have different historical, political, social and cultural backgrounds, and it is therefore challenging to develop a single approach. And second of all, inequalities concern a number of sectors of public life, from the economy and the job market to cultural aspects, health, housing, justice, education, gender and so on. This is therefore a complex field to address per se. But the story does not end here: the recent question of migrants and refugees has raised a discussion that is still ongoing, with little solutions being achieved. The rise of a sentiment of anti-Europeanism, matched with the growing popularity of right-wing radicalism in a number of EU States, represents a serious threat not only to the integration, but even the access of young migrants in Europe. According to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, 197,696 people have reached Europe by sea since the beginning of 2016, and 35% of them are children.
The president of the European Commission Juncker addressed the issue of migrants asking for more solidarity among the EU states to face the problem, as certain countries are more affected than others in receiving and dealing with the masses of migrants. The figures of individuals moving from Africa and the Middle East to Europe are enormous and increasing every day; more and more people die in the effort of reaching the coasts of Italy, Greece, Malta and crossing borders to enter the EU. In most cases, the States have found themselves being unprepared to receive this amount of people. Some have raised physical walls, trying to keep the migrants out. But walls are not the solution, and Europeans are realising how impossible it is to stop the phenomenon. According to President Juncker, we need to develop strategies of cooperation and solidarity among the member States, as well as fighting the traffickers and increasing the budget for cooperation. Furthermore, Europe needs migration, Juncker added in his announcement of the migration agenda, and it is mandatory to support it within the boundaries of a legal framework.
The situation of the newly arriving refugees and their necessary integration was one of the central themes at the Symposium (Un)Equal Europe, organised by the EU-CoE youth partnership in Budapest on May 30-June 2, 2016 to address the inequalities that young people face today in Europe, explore approaches and develop solutions through dialogue between practitioners, researchers and policy-makers.
How do youth inequalities and the question of migrants relate?
Addressing the issue of migrants is a delicate and urgent question, even more so because the refugees are going to add on the problems that young people in Europe are already facing. A recent poll by Eurobarometer shows how more than half of young Europeans aged between 16 and 30 feel marginalised in their country due to the economic crisis. In fact, the crisis has not only increased unemployment, but also created new forms of insecurity and exclusion, which echoes other results by the Youth Monitor, reporting how young people are the group at highest risk of poverty and social exclusion in Europe. However, the Eurobarometer poll also shows that few young people (15%) are really compelled to leave their country because of the crisis. 61% do not want to study, train or work in another EU country, and a percentage of 88% of young people have never travelled to another country to study or work. Despite having celebrated 25 years of Erasmus programme in 2012, these data suggest that young people in Europe are not very accustomed to the idea of “migration” themselves. So, these figures inevitably raise serious questions about the future of migrants and refugees in the EU, how they are seen by young Europeans, whether actual integration can happen and, even more, whether equality between EU-born and non-EU born can exist.
In fact, the Migration Integration Statistics, focusing on the topics of employment, education, social inclusion and active citizenship, provides worrying numbers. In 2014, the gap in labour market participation at EU level between non-EU citizen migrants and both the national population and mobile EU citizens has further increased, 37% of the 25–54-year-old non-EU-born population has completed at most lower secondary education, 40.1% of the non-EU-born population in the EU was assessed to be at risk of poverty or social exclusion (AROPE) compared with less than 22.5 % of the native-born population, and EU Member States granted citizenship to almost 1 million persons in 2013, representing 3% of all foreign citizens in the EU-27 Member States. All this meaning, in sum, that inequalities are evident for youth in Europe, but certainly more for non-native young Europeans.
How (little) youth is involved in the EU public sphere
In November 2009, the Council of Youth Ministers adopted the EU Youth Strategy for 2010-2018 which has two overall objectives: to provide more and equal opportunities for young people in education and in the labour market and to promote the active citizenship, social inclusion and solidarity of all young people. Which basically means that, in order to solve the inequalities that young people deal with in Europe, they need to take part in first person to the public debate. Getting back to the Eurobarometer poll of May 2016, data shows that the ways of participating in the public life of the EU for young people are not much considered: 30% believes the most important thing is to individually help the most needy, 19% to take part in demonstrations, 17% to use the citizens’ initiative, and 12% to join a political party or trade union. Figures which substantially reflect the data from the Youth Monitor, which reports how only 3% of all young people in Europe took part in international youth cooperation activities, 25% joined voluntary activities, and 15% in political, community, or environmental NGOs.
Much progress is needed in getting young people involved to build positive change. The question of migrants points out the need to make the solution of inequalities affecting EU youth, the immigrants already living in the EU, and incoming refugees a priority on the EU agenda. The Symposium (Un)Equal Europe has represented an important opportunity not only to reflect on these issues and finding solutions, but, also and most importantly, to start conceiving youth and migrants as a resource rather than a problem, and help them doing so too.