It is widely acknowledged among public bodies and in society at large that the current crisis is fostering a lost generation of citizens with severely limited prospects (“Give young people the skills to work”, 15-21 November). What the European institutions do not seem to realise is that economic policy decisions also risk producing an entire generation chronically disengaged from the European dream.
Changes in the EU's 2013 budget have led to a shortfall for the lifelong-learning programme, the framework for the popular Erasmus scholarships. Janusz Lewandowski, the commissioner for financial programming and the budget, has been forced to request an additional €180 million to keep the programme going. The European Parliament voiced its concern during a recent debate on the EU budget. However, several member states have already refused to increase their contributions, hindering agreement on the proposed measure in the Council.
The funding shortfalls coincide with statements recently made by the EU agency Eurofound that the economic crisis will generate inestimable costs because of youth disengagement from society.
Indeed, high levels of unemployment and harsh public expenditure cuts have already had a negative impact on support for the EU.
Experiences of life in another European country have, by contrast, been seen as among the most effective means of creating a sense of community, allowing younger generations to develop academic and professional skills with a different cultural perspective, to overcome language barriers and to socialise with local people and with the other international youngsters.
By potentially reducing the reach of the lifelong-learning programme, the EU is depriving its citizens of tangible benefits; worse still, it might be diminishing their very sense of European identity. Some would expect media coverage to compensate for a lack of direct experience of life in another member state. But media organisations do not see European coverage focusing on the benefits of a European identity as a profitable endeavour. That gives the EU even more reason to take advantage of the few effective tools at its disposal.
Political figures have repeatedly declared their intention to increase the democratic credentials of the Union as further economic integration proceeds. The low turnout at the European Parliament elections, however, provides evidence of worrying indifference towards European matters. As things stand, innovative electoral arrangements on the table (such as the direct election of the president of the Commission) might meet the same fate: the peoples of Europe just do not feel European enough.
If, in times of scarce resources, education becomes the victim, then the EU will find itself, at whatever cost, having to re-inspire a whole generation after years of disenchantment with the European ideal.
Leticia Díez Sánchez