EU budget: a rude awakening for youth
Yesterday EU leaders celebrated the end of a historic Council meeting. After the second longest negotiations ever in the history of the EU, Member States were able to find an agreement on both Next Generation EU, the new EU funding instrument to support the post COVID-19 recovery, and the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) 2021-27, the EU’s seven-year budget.
But what does this agreement mean for young people? And should we really be celebrating?
The negotiations this weekend were tough. Back in 2018 when the process started, no one could have predicted that we would find ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic leading us into an economic recession. The strong recovery package is therefore welcome, representing a crucial sign of commitment and solidarity in Europe.
Beyond the recovery, however, EU leaders have failed to show enough ambition. Rather than investing in the future of Europe, in young generations, in sustainability and innovation, these areas are now facing severe cuts. At a time when young people are already bearing the burden of yet another crisis, this budget agreement comes as a disappointment. Most of the sectoral programmes with a direct focus on youth or with the potential to support the transition towards a fairer, more socially and environmentally sustainable Europe, will now not be able to meet their ambitious targets.
A big setback for Erasmus+ and European Solidarity Corps
The final proposal by EU leaders is to allocate €21.2 bn to Erasmus+. While this is an increase compared to the current Erasmus+ budget, it still falls far short of the most recent proposal by the European Commission. Most importantly, this new figure won’t be sufficient to meet the new ambitious objectives set for the programme for the next 7 years. To continue to build this successful programme, increase the focus on inclusion and introduce new initiatives, we must at least triple the current Erasmus+ budget. Failing to invest in Erasmus+ will negatively affect the work of youth organisations and their efforts to foster youth participation. A strong youth sector is key to ensure that young people from all backgrounds can have access to a safe space to engage and grow as active citizens.
The lack of references to the European Solidarity Corps programme in the Council agreement is also greatly concerning. It will be impossible to ‘build back better’ unless we invest in opportunities for young people to have a positive impact on their communities through volunteering and developing their competences while fostering solidarity.
More ambition needed for a social and green economy
Young people are the most vulnerable to the social and economic impacts of COVID-19, as they are ‘first out’ during job losses and are at greater risk of poverty. Unfortunately, the budget agreement fails to provide youth with the support they will need as they face these challenges. The Council’s proposed budget allocation for youth employment in the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) doesn’t match the increase called for by the European Commission and European Parliament. While Next Generation EU is meant to provide support and opportunities for young people in the aftermath of COVID-19, it is not yet clear how much of the €750 bn allocated to it will be invested in youth.
Increasing the earmarking of funds for youth employment is essential not only to support the European Commission’s ambition to reinforce the Youth Guarantee, but also to prevent a ‘lockdown generation’ that could carry the scars of poverty and unemployment for decades to come.
While we welcome the Council’s commitment to ensure that at least 30% of the EU budget contributes to climate objectives, ensuring environmental sustainability across EU policies and programmes is key. Significant reductions in energy demand and carbon emissions during the COVID-19 pandemic have laid bare the extent to which industrial activity and transportation harm our environment. The negative impacts of lockdowns on our jobs and economies have also shown how over-reliant we are on carbon-intensive industries.
It is for this reason that we are disappointed to see that the proposal to allocate €40 bn for the Just Transition Fund has now been cut down to €17.5 bn. The Fund is the only social component of the European Green Deal. In order to ensure a just transition that leaves no one - including youth- behind, greater resources are needed.
What the European Youth Forum will do
The European Youth Forum will not stand by while EU leaders cut essential resources for young people to have access to quality education opportunities, find a decent job, and live in an economically and environmentally sustainable Europe. This Council decision is not the end of the EU budget game. We will continue to work with our Member Organisations and our institutional partners to make sure that the 2021-2027 EU budget includes a much stronger focus on youth.
We call on the European Commission and the European Parliament to be strong allies during the upcoming negotiations, to ensure adequate resources are invested in Europe’s youth. The EU cannot afford to lose yet another generation, and the Youth Forum will continue to work so that young people and their future prospects are not sacrificed.