(fa fede solo il testo effettivamente pronunciato)
Inspiring a generation. Next steps for the European Project.
- Let us start from the data. Is it really true that support for the process of European integration is declining? It is, unfortunately. The latest Eurobarometer (summer 2012) shows that trust in the European Union has fallen steadily in the last year and now stands at its lowest ever level, 31%, down three points since autumn 2011. At the same time, more than half of the Europeans continue to support the single currency.
- It has often been argued that younger generations take Europe for granted. They are not responsive to the old “integration as an antidote to war” postulate. The award of the Nobel Peace Prize is a welcome development, a worthy reminder of our greatest achievement, but it is hardly going to change our youth’s general feeling towards Europe.
- War is scarcely relevant to the present generation. Armed struggle within Europe is not an issue. A bleak future, a life with less opportunities, few services and no guarantees is the only real issue. This generation is the first since World War II that has declining expectations.
- It is not solely a European problem. The Economist convincingly argued that American baby boomers of the Fifties and Sixties had the best possible deal: they had the highest salaries, enjoyed the best services and will retire with large pensions. Today’s young Americans, on the other hand, have to adapt to a much less favourable environment. A similar situation can be found in all the Western world.
- In parts of Europe, the situation is particularly dire. Youth unemployment is frighteningly high in Southern Europe, with no sign of a reverse trend. “Wasted generation” is an expression that is increasingly used to describe this situation.
- Against this background, elegant dissertations on the United States of Europe risk to be perceived as empty rhetoric, if not coupled with initiatives to tackle the concrete, practical problems that face our youth, namely unemployment and the lack of long-term perspectives. We need a positive agenda, a positive narrative for Europe.
- Policies followed up to this moment, based on repeated and massive doses of austerity, cannot provide such a narrative. They are important to restore trust but they can hardly restore hope, or foster solidarity. We need new ideas, new recipes for the governments of Europe.
- Last Saturday I attended in Capri a conference organized by the young entrepreneurs’ federations of Italy, France, Germany and Spain. There was an intense and passionate discussion and lots of ideas - old and new - were aired and debated. Some of them were quite interesting. Let me quote, for instance, from their final declaration, where they invite the European Institutions, national governments and European stakeholders to: ” reactivate the intergenerational solidarity mechanisms as well as implement adequate policy choices and actions aimed at enhancing young people’s opportunities, financed by a fixed portion of the national GDP to be commonly agreed…” .
- This is, in my view, an interesting concept, that might be further developed. Broadly speaking, all our welfare systems are aimed at providing support, in the form of pension payments, to old people when they retire. Young people, on the other hand, are normally faced with a shortage of funds – and trust - when it comes to starting their professional lives. Maybe we could think of a reform of our welfare systems that would provide some support at the initial stage of the working life, instead of doing it only in the final stage. Maybe a sort of European fund could be envisaged – along the lines suggested by the young entrepreneurs in Capri – to bankroll worthy business initiatives. I am just thinking aloud, of course; I am aware of the difficulties but I intend to offer some food for thought. Youth inclusion in the labour market is, in my view, the mother and father of all problems, the one on which policy-makers should focus most of their energies.
- Access to capital, together with tax incentives and good connections with Universities and other centres of learning will facilitate start ups. There are countless schemes in Europe to help and encourage start ups – the Italian government just launched an ambitious new project - but on the whole it is still much easier for a young person to start a new business in – say – the United States, than it is in Europe. We have to fill this gap.
- Another important responsibility of the European institutions and the national governments is to uphold and provide adequate funding for lifelong learning programmes such as Erasmus or Leonardo. They are essential tools to create a truly European conscience among our youths. Most of the young people in our continent already feel at ease with their “double nationality”, national and European, but this is especially true of those who could benefit of a European dimension in their education and training.
- Better training, entrepreneurship education, substantial investments in vocational education are also instruments that in due time will not only ensure a reduction of youth unemployment but also guarantee that young talents will not leave Europe to look for business opportunities elsewhere.
- On a different note, I think that young Europeans, in spite of all, should be aware that the economic and social model in which they live is still one of the most successful around. I know that it may sound odd to say this when we are discussing precisely the shortcomings of such a system, seemingly incapable of providing jobs and opportunities as it used to.
- We should not forget, however, that other economic and social models that are sometimes hailed as more modern or more conducive to rapid growth tend to be much harsher toward the “losers”, those who end up on the wrong side of internal competition, who are more or less left to fend for themselves. I am convinced that Europe has the resources and the determination to reform its socio-economic model, remaining true to its values of social inclusion, cohesiveness and solidarity.
- Speaking of solidarity, I’ll conclude by answering the question you asked at the beginning of our working session: what innovative and creative ideas for new projects would contribute to bringing Europeans closer together and increase the feeling of solidarity and support for the European project, particularly among the younger generations?
I don’t know whether it is innovative or creative, but my idea is that we must find ways to increase solidarity in four important fields:
1. Solidarity between generations. It has somewhat been lost along the way. The accumulation of huge public debts is one paramount example. Youth inclusion in the labour market and responsible fiscal policies are one way to address the problem.
2. Geopolitical solidarity, namely addressing the North/South divide. This was part of the European project from the beginning. It is hard to accept that for some European policy-makers towering rates of unemployment in the periphery of Europe are dismissed as simple collateral damage, without consideration of the human cost. In the end, solidarity should lead to some form of mutualising of public debt.
3. Solidarity between the elites and the people. The times of technocratic Europe are over. As the powers of unelected organs become more intrusive; as more chunks of national sovereignty are ceded to supranational institutions; as more and more sacrifices are asked of the common citizens in the name of some superior good, the peoples of Europe have to feel that they have a voice, that they are involved in decisions taken from afar that heavily affect their lives. In order to close the gap between the European institutions and the citizens, proposals like the “elected” President of the Commission are key.
4. Solidarity between business and labour. This concept has been clearly expressed this morning by Prime Minister Monti, when he underlined the importance of social market economy, and by the Secretary General of the European Trade Union Confederation, Ms. Bernadette Ségol. Market efficiency is a common aspiration, but the technical expression must not hide the fact that the aim of an efficient market is to increase prosperity for the majority of the people, for the community at large. Corporate social responsibility must play an important role in our society. Indeed, business and labour do not need to be enemies: according to the statistics, the most successful economies in Europe are precisely those where the relationship between business and labour works better.