The EU, older people, and why younger generations should care more about them

, by Veronika Snoj

The EU, older people, and why younger generations should care more about them
The EU has invested in young people through a number of high-profile initiatives. Photo from the European Youth Event at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, 2018. © European Union 2018 - European Parliament

The last EU budget has extensively supported younger people. But Veronika Snoj asks, who has been thinking of the generation of our parents?

I can say that I am part of the Erasmus+ generation, although I’m already too old to enjoy new initiatives supported by the European Commission, such as the free Interrail trip for Europeans turning 18. I was born in Argentina but spent most of my formative years in one of the freshest EU members and my ‘home country’, Slovenia. I had the luck to do an Erasmus+ semester in Berlin and in this moment, I enjoy working at my 11-month European Solidarity Corps placement in Poland, not to mention all the other opportunities that came my way, which having an EU passport made easier to participate in.

In short, I grew up in a bubble where words such as ‘youth mobility’ are used more often than you have lunch, and where the community is flooded with tons of ‘projects’ and ‘trainings’ with the sole aim of spreading the word about other ‘projects’ and ‘trainings’ supported by the EU budget. The only thing you have to do in this bubble, they tell you, is to ‘grab the opportunity’.

But not so long ago, while skyping with my father from wherever I was, I got struck by his words. “You’re the one in our family enjoying the benefits of the EU.” He is now in his 50s and he has been living in the EU since his late 30s. He supports Slovenia’s membership in the Union and I even remember the day when Slovenia entered it, how we gathered in a park to celebrate it. And he can’t deny that he enjoys the benefits of the single market, the euro, and the Schengen Area.

However, you can’t neglect the fact that the youth has been a priority in recent EU policies. For instance, the aims of the EU budget for 2014–2020 included boosting youth growth through extensive funding of Erasmus+ projects, and boosting youth employability; the amount of resources allocated for this was for about 40% higher than in the previous budget (2007–2013).

It is difficult to get a job, and even harder for those in their 50s

According to Eurostat, it is the younger generation that suffers the most from unemployment; but finding a job is often not a piece of cake for those who lose their jobs in their 50s, either. It is the case in all EU member states that the employment rate of older workers is lower to the overall working age population. In their case, despite their experience, they can fall victim to prolonged joblessness which affects them more than younger generations. They may not be struggling with gaining independence and creating a family, but they may be struggling with looking after their families and paying off the loan for the house; they suffer from being overqualified for the jobs they are applying for; and from unstable, shifting pension age policies.

On top of that, mobility across EU countries for older people might not be as self-evident as it is for younger generations. It is not only the fact that travelling around for studies or projects is easier when you’re young, but trainings and seminars which do not always have a fixed purpose might also lose its appeal when you have a job to show up at and children to look after.

Adapting to new languages and systems takes time and effort, too

There are barriers that are still present, particularly in the younger EU members. It should not be forgotten that in former Yugoslavia and Warsaw Pact countries the lingua franca of the 20th century was neither English nor French or German. And although the younger generations are quickly grasping these languages that in the current situation offer a wider range of job perspectives, not everybody who went through all the education system learning Serbo-Croatian or Russian has the time or will to take up a new language.

Seeking jobs abroad, if we do not count low-cost country sourcing, can therefore not be an option. Free movement of services and labour for some remain thus just empty words. It is not therefore surprising that older generations slip into nostalgic thoughts of the former regime where they knew how to operate within the existing system and the language that was used for it.

With all the activities devoted to young people, I haven’t heard much about trainings for older generations that would be financially supported by the EU budget. It looks as though with the magic 30th birthday, all the activities stop: now you have to become a serious and responsible taxpayer to support everything that the youngsters enjoy. But to get to the full integration of states the EU strives for so much, we, the young, should think of the older generations on a European level, too. In this respect, I have particularly in mind older generations in the new members that experienced a completely different regime in the second half of the 20th century.

Simple practical trainings on how to explore your potentials in another country with guests from older EU members that benefited from it would be, in my opinion, an adequate start. Not to mention introductions to the basic principles and institutions of the EU to both substitute and complete the knowledge they acquired under regimes now long gone.

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