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The idea behind the Rift is simple: for each topic of debate, we provide you with an expertise based on a pro-con approach, written by competent and legitimate experts. We want to help you make your own opinion, and guide you on first steps to civic engagement.
European Structural and Investment Funds : a real support for young people
Non-residential fellow at Bruegel, former director of the European Commission
First, I should point out that between 2000 and 2020, Regional Disparities in the European Union have decreased by 20%. European Structural and Investment Funds are the main tool of the Cohesion Policy. They are mainly allocated to lagging-behind regions (where gross domestic product per inhabitant is less than 65% of the Community average). The beneficiary regions receive a budget envelope for seven years to finance a long term investment and development strategy. Through modernizing the economy and infrastructures, cohesion policies foster growth and employment in these regions, thus creating new opportunities for the young people living there.
Structural funds turned young people into a political priority
Cohesion policy also incorporates a social dimension that directly supports young people to get an education and towards occupational integration. These funds thus finance several actions targeting young people, such as programs preventing students from dropping out, or plans promoting partnerships with local employers. Between 2014 and 2020 in France, 20% of the funding from the ESF (European Social Fund) have benefited young people, representing a budget of 150 million euros a year. The assessment of the ESF has shown that European intervention allowed for better monitoring and personalized interventions in favor of young people exposed to the risk of unemployment or social exclusion. The most important scheme is The Youth Guarantee, with 637,000 beneficiaries. European funds also made it possible for 460,000 young people to get access to the “Missions Locales” intensive support system.
According to Eurosceptics, who insist on the fact that France is a net contributor to the EU budget, structural funds would only be a way for the national policy to retrieve the funds that had been allocated to the EU budget, but without getting any additional value from it. This neglects the fact that structural funds, that have a set budget for 7 years, are more oriented towards long term investments than national budgetary policies that have to answer short term challenges and are subject to electoral pressure. A study has shown that even though The Youth Guarantee existed in France before European recommendation, structural funds have institutionalized it and made it permanent. This is one of the examples that suggest that structural funds turned young people into a political priority. This would not have been the case at a national level only.
The European Union is a long term project that invests in young people
The outlook for the next few years is looking good: actions to support young people in the next few years will benefit from the general increase in the European budget and from funding from other programs than structural funds. The recovery plan “Next Generation EU” (NGEU), adopted after the Covid-19 crisis, has almost doubled the EU budget for the programming period 2021-2027. In France, the “1 young person, 1 solution” scheme, at the heart of the French recovery plan, thus receives funding from structural funds, as well as from the new Recovery and Resilience Facility. Moreover, in addition to the structural funds, a program such as ERASMUS now also has double the funds for the new programming period, making it possible for more young people to move across Europe, including less privileged people. Until recently, this was only an opportunity for students enrolled in universities. Since the European Union is a long term project, the EU believes that it is essential to involve young people and to invest in them.
Who can do more can do less
President of the French Orientation Council of Youth Policies, former president of the Young Europeans – France
When it comes to the cohesion policy, the youth has a very particular place. The European Union cares about their inclusion in the job market and about their transition into working life, challenged by many factors: their level of education, financial instability, short term jobs… Regarding these elements, gaps between European regions are very large: in April 2022, Greece and Spain were struggling with unemployment of young people under 25 years old (36,8% and 28,9%). On the other hand, Germany or the Netherlands had an unemployment rate under 7%.
In terms of employment, the gap between regions remains very high
One of the goals of the European Social Fund (ESF) is to support higher quality jobs creation and to offer vulnerable citizens better career opportunities. As such, young people are a special target of European solidarity policies, for instance through financing the French “Missions Locales”. Young people also benefit from the ESF+, now incorporating the YEI (youth employment initiative), previously named the Youth Guarantee. In France, this has enabled the creation of the Youth engagement contract. However, are these actions enough to really tackle inequalities? In terms of employment, the gap between regions is now higher than it was before the 2008 economic crisis.
An important part of these European cohesion policy funds are used to finance research, innovation and competitiveness. Since the EU is focusing on regional development through economic development and productivity, the social dimension, despite the positive announcements, is sometimes forgotten. Projects to modernize public infrastructure would be the best possible investment to have a real impact on inequalities. Unfortunately, they are not the most visible to this day.
We need a real “Social Europe”
Can the 2021-2027 cohesion policy be a game-changer through making social rights and justice a priority ? A “more social Europe” supporting education, access to a decent job, equal access to health care… What if this was the actual solution to tackle inequalities between young people (and less young, too)? What if, instead of structural and investment funds, we could frankly talk about a social Europe? Instead of using financial incentives, the EU could develop an ambitious social policy, whether for employment, equality for all, or social protection. This Europe could be structured around social rights granted to all citizens, on the basis of upward harmonization: young people would be the first winners. This would be a major change, since one of the major flaws of the current cohesion policy today is to put an emphasis on employment and youth inclusion in the job market at all costs. If we really had a social Europe, institutions would be able to take a necessary step back to build a global policy for education, culture, employment, mobility… The European Union takes pride in supporting young people in many aspects of their daily lives: building this action within an asserted social Europe would contribute greatly to the empowerment of young people and help fight inequalities, much more than structural and investment funds do. Building this action within an asserted social Europe would contribute more to the empowerment of young people and the fight against inequalities, much more than cohesion funds on their own.