Europe’s highly skilled 20-30 year olds in times of austerity

europeonthestrand |

Raya Kardasheva is a Lecturer in European Politics at King’s College London.

Hello Europe, here they are – the educated, the jobless, the hungry and the ruthless. They studied the European project. They believed in the European project. They acted on the European project. Their generation is truly European – they travel without borders, they learn from other cultures, they have multinational relationships, their newly born children are citizens of Europe.

The political and economic crisis that has occupied that European Union has had a distinct effect on one specific fraction of the European electorate – the 20-30 year olds. The generation of good students, those that speak several European languages, those that have several university degrees and a number of internships and work placements from top institutions – fight for scarce job opportunities. The truly devoted, highly skilled, highly educated EU citizens have become jobless, hungry and ruthless.

The financial crisis sobered up Europe’s graduates. They rethink their values and beliefs; who they are and what they stand for. Clearly, what their parents and universities taught them becomes less and less relevant in times of austerity. Europe’s politicians struggle to present them with tangible plans and coherent strategies. The markets are highly unstable. The rules of the game have changed and the top graduates of world-class universities are no longer ‘the high flyers’ holding numerous job offers.

Europe’s highly educated 20-30 year olds enter a harsh and unwelcoming job market. They no longer believe that there is a ‘golden apple’ at the end of university education. They do not dream of perfect EU institutions, ambitious political agendas and smooth bureaucratic processes. They no longer expect more EU integration. They are anxious about EU immigration.

They are here, the educated, the qualified, the capable – they want a good life in Europe and they want it now. They are ready to play by the new rules. In fact, they are ready to change the rules; they are entrepreneurs. A central benefit resulting from the financial crisis is the opportunity to try out new ideas. There is little to lose. Remember, they spent years in education – they understand political institutions, they know how markets work. Europe’s young graduates worked extremely hard to earn their university degrees and they are working even harder to adapt to the changing job environment. They are Europe’s teachers, doctors, engineers, businessmen, actors, journalists and designers. They are the protesters in the streets.

While Europe’s political arena is shaking, the EU’s 20-30 year olds are building impressive CVs. Given their exceptional analytical, technical and language skills, these young people have acquired much more work experience than their parents at the same age. The difference is, Europe’s ‘internship generation’ is now looking for paid work.

The European Union has been a very important project for this generation. Europe’s university graduates know in detail the functioning of the EU institutions; they understand the complex legislative processes, the multi-annual financial frameworks, the reformed Common Agricultural Policy, the different objectives of the EU’s Cohesion policy. The highly skilled EU 20-30 year olds, many of whom took part in Erasmus exchanges, know of the EU’s environmental, telecommunications and financial policies, they are directly affected by the developments in EU energy, health, asylum and immigration policies.  The European Union has influenced almost every aspect of their day-to-day lives.

Europe’s university graduates are faced with a difficult reality. They may still be interning on the job market, but they have become highly demanding in their role as EU citizens. They read thoroughly political party manifestos, they vote at elections and follow closely political leaders’ actions. The highly skilled and educated citizens of Europe value highly their rights and this is why they are becoming ruthless in their political behaviour. The age of austerity has given rise to a new type of EU citizens.

Tired of vague promises and little government action, they demand clear political messages, defined strategies and informed government choices. Being able to organise quickly and to communicate efficiently, Europe’s 20-30 year olds are more politically active than ever before. Having raised expectations about the organisation of economic and social life in the EU, they do not tolerate oblivious multi-annual plans and the empty promises their parents believed in. They truly understand the European project and have the skills to run it successfully.

Prepared to go to extremes, this demanding generation is yet to define its economic choices and to determine Europe’s political make-up. Thus, the educated, the jobless and ruthless young citizens of Europe are hungry to run an economically advanced and politically coherent European Union.