Youth unemployment policies: the time for evaluation has come!

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On 4th April 2017, the European Court of Auditors submitted its evaluation report on the EU’s policies against youth unemployment to the European Commission (EC). This very detailed report assesses the situation and the condition for the implementation of the Youth Guarantee in seven countries.[1] The data has been gathered during an audit period starting in April 2013 (launch date of the Youth Guarantee) and ending in May 2016. The assessment’s objective was to determine whether the Youth Guarantee showed positive results, and if the Youth Employment Initiative, adopted few weeks after the Council’s recommendation, contributed to these results.

Under the Youth Guarantee, Member States should ensure that, within four months of leaving school or becoming unemployed, young people under the age of 25 can either find a good quality job suited to their education, skills and experience or acquire the education, skills and experience needed to find a job in the future through an apprenticeship, a traineeship or continued education.[2] The Youth Guarantee is the result of a Council’s recommendation adopted in April 2013.

It is worth recalling that young active workforce aged between 15 and 25 is particularly affected by unemployment in Europe[3]. In 2013, when the Youth Guarantee was launched, this age group’s unemployment rate was of 23.7%.[4]It is also necessary to underline that this rate is taking active workforce into account only. Lots of inactive young people are not included in these statistics despite their precarious situation. Within the EU, the unemployment rate is decreasing but remains as of June 2016 at an average of 18.8%[5] with huge differences from one Member state to another. Indeed, Greece records a youth active unemployment rate of 47.7%, Spain of 45.2%, Italy of 37.2%, while it is 6.3% in Germany and 11% in Malta.[6]

The Youth Guarantee is one of the European Commission’s main initiatives aimed at fighting youth unemployment. In September 2016, AEDH expressed its concerns about this system’s weaknesses[7] and so did the European Youth Forum in a declaration in August 2015[8]. With the European Court of Auditors’ special report, a time for evaluation has come.

The conclusion of the report is harsh. Indeed, it states that “While the seven Member States visited had made progress in implementing the Youth Guarantee and some results had been achieved, the current situation (…) falls short of the initial expectations raised at the launch of the Youth Guarantee”.[9] Too many young people are still unemployed in the EU and none of the seven Member States visited by the Court of Auditors’ experts is able to guarantee that all their young who are neither in employment, education or training (NEET) had the opportunity to accept an offer within four months after they lost their job or left school. At the root of the inefficiency, the Court points out many failures in the recommendation’s implementation by the Member States.

As a matter of facts, the report asserts that organisational efforts to target all the NEET in the visited countries have been too weak. Consequently, many off-record young people remain outside the programme. Thus, the Youth Guarantee cannot trigger effective results. According to the report, neither the European Commission nor the Member States performed a global assessment of the characteristics of the NEET population or a proper gap assessment before the implementation of the recommendation in each country. The latter was supposed to assess the gap between the on-going situation and the objective to reach. The lack of collaboration between the states has worsened the situation, of which young people are the first victims participating in the programme, and especially the most vulnerable ones including cross-border workers, young migrants and young from underprivileged background.[10]

However, what appears to be a “simple” lack of organisational structure is much more political in nature. Indeed, this situation can be explained by the gap between the resources the EU chose to provide to the Member States and the real needs that these latter still have to finance. According to the World Trade Organisation and to the European Organisation for the improvement of living and working conditions (Eurofound), the financing needs for the Youth Guarantee in order to target all the NEET are much higher than they currently are. These two organisations respectively value them between €45.5[11] billion to €50.4[12] billion per year while the EU contribution to the Youth Guarantee is only €12.3 billion per year. Whereas the Member States should fill the gap they apparently prefer targeting only a part of unemployed or unskilled young people instead of addressing the whole of the issue. AEDH denounces Member States’ lack of courage and the lack of investments in the implementation of the Youth Guarantee in the countries visited by the Court of Auditors. While benefitting from European subsidies aimed at tackling an issue responsible for a great social injustice, they did fail to act in accordance with the issue’s importance, preferring to minimise the social objectives in order to maximise political outcomes.

Yet, early job insecurity and youth unemployment have scarring effects for those aged between 15 and 25 years.  This is confirmed by the initial results of a joint study conducted by the Solidar Foundation and members of the NEGOCIATE[13] project’s consortium, whose final results are expected in January 2018.  AEDH already emphasised the impact of youth unemployment on remuneration throughout their life.[14] These studies uncover further elements. The panel of young people from nine different European states interrogated in this study[15] show that youth unemployment also affects the well-being, health, future employment chances and chances in life in general.[16] It is precisely to avoid this kind of situation that the Youth Guarantee has been created, prompting states to propose a job, a traineeship or an apprenticeship within four months, notably to counteract hysteresis unemployment effects.

Hysteresis effect refers to the situation of persons excluded from the labour market over a long period of time. Without any training or professional activity, the individual sees his chances of employment diminish over time. It is a vicious circle where the longer the period of job exclusion, the chances to eventually find a job decreases.

But once again the results fall short of expectations. Indeed, the positive exit’s proportion under four months, that is the proportion of young people who took up employment, internship or training offered by the programme, has decreased between 2014 and 2015. Whereas global positive exit’s proportion increased, the one corresponding to positive exit within four months fell down from 70% in 2014 to 59% in 2015. Furthermore, the results’ gap is huge from one state to another. It is at 99% in Italy (where the programme worked well) to 58% in Spain.[17]  Furthermore, the long-term continuity of a job is less and less ensured, given that among positive exits, young people are more numerous to lose it within 18 months following employment.[18]

This situation is due in particular to the weakness of defining the criteria of a “good quality offer”. According to the Court of Auditors’ recommendations, the Youth Guarantee offers should both:

  • Enable matching between a candidate’s profile and an existing offer on the labour market.
  • Enable a long term insertion on the labour market.

However, only a few Member States introduced these two elements in their national legislation. Despite an improvement in some countries, as in Slovakia[19], there is still a long way to go before these elements can be both applicable to all the offers, whether it is a job or training.

The absence of proper funding for the Youth Guarantee is at the root of a large part of these failures. Theoretically, the programme is co-financed, which means that its implementation is to be funded in part by the European Commission and the remainder is the Member States’ responsibility. Nonetheless, in spite of generating new expenditures from the Member States, Youth European Initiative is more likely to be a substitute to previous national budgets.  In fact, it does not result in an increase of funds allocated to the NEET at the national level.[20]  In September 2016, because of a persisting strong youth unemployment rate, the European Commission proposed to increase the Youth European Initiative budget to €8.5 billion.[21] This was also the committee on Employment and Social Affairs’ (EMPL) conclusions in its draft opinion for 2018 budget’s orientations sent to the committee on budgets on April 4, 2017. The EMPL Committee emphasised that given the remaining high level of youth unemployment in the EU, it was necessary to ensure sufficient financing of the Youth Guarantee, especially through the YEI and the European Social Found.[22]

In parallel with the Youth Guarantee, in February 2013, the Council and the European Parliament agreed to establish the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI) with a dedicated budget line in order to increase the EU financial support available to regions and individuals that were struggling the most with youth unemployment and inactivity.

The YEI is part of overall ESF programming. The Commission has a higher level of responsibility in this domain compared to the Youth Guarantee.[23]

However, the expected positive effects of a YEI’s budget increase are doubtful. As a matter of fact, the Court of Auditors’ special report underlines that the YEI’s contribution to reach the Youth Guarantee’s objectives has been so far “very limited”, and decreasing any purported positive effects from a budget increase.  Effectively there exists a gap between the means implemented by the European Commission and the real needs to fight efficiently against youth unemployment. This mismatch can also be attributed to the EC’s initiative for the European Solidarity Corps (ESC), officially launched in December 2016.

Indeed, in a press release, dated 6 April 2017, the European Trade-Union Confederation (ETC) denounced the “confusion” between the European Solidarity Corps and the Youth Employment Initiative made by the President of the EC, Jean-Claude Juncker.[24]  Whereas the ETC’s youth committee acknowledges and supports the solidarity and active citizenship’s value advocated by the ESC, it also asserts that the ESC cannot “force young people into unpaid labour[25]”. The European Parliament also made it clear in its motion for a resolution on March 3, 2017, specifying that the EC should: “make a clear distinction between volunteering activities and job placements, so as to avoid any substitution of potential quality jobs with unpaid volunteering.[26]

In line with the Court of Auditors’ conclusions, AEDH judges the European Commission and Member States’ efforts as insufficient to solve youth unemployment and its appalling social consequences. The means allocated to the programme are inadequate, often responding to political needs instead of genuine social commitment. Unfortunately, this assessment could be generalised to the entire 2020 Strategy in term of employment. Indeed, when in 2016, the EC congratulated itself for regaining a 70% employment rate for the 20-64 years old[27], at the same level of 2008, the one for the 15-24 years old only reached an average of 40.8%[28] despite a 75% global employment rate objective and many efforts dedicated to solve the youth situation whose employment rate reached 42.4%[29] in 2008.

Like the ETC, AEDH criticises the confusion made between the ESC and an opportunity for remunerated quality jobs.

In its struggle against precarity, which according to some studies[30], still threatens one person out of six in Europe, AEDH demands a multiplication of efforts to solve this issue.  It requests for the Court of Auditors and the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs’ recommendations to be given due consideration, and for the EC and the Member States to allocate the necessary means to answer Jean-Claude Juncker’s ambition who refuses to see Europe being “the continent of youth unemployment[31]”.


[1] Ireland, Portugal, Croatia, Slovakia, France, Spain and Italy.

[2] European Court of Auditors, 4 April 2017 Special Report.

[3] Eurofound, Social Inclusion of Young people report, 2015.

[4] Eurostat.

[5] European Court of Auditors, 4 April 2017 Special Report.

[6] Ibid for all these statistics.

[7] AEDH, The fight against youth unemployment : Doubts about the real policy.

[8] European Youth Forum, Position paper – Two years after : the implementation of the Youth guarantee, August 2015.

[9] European Court of Auditors, 4 April 2017 Special Report.

[10] European Youth Forum, Talking youth unemployment at Citizen’s Parliament.

[11] Eurofound, Social Inclusion of Young people report, 2015.

[12] World Trade Organization, ,The youth Guarantee programme in Europe : Features, implementations and challenges, 2015.

[13] Solidar Foundation, The consequences of youth unemployment and early job insecurity in Europe.

[14] AEDH, The fight against youth unemployment : Doubts about the real policy.

[15] Norway, the United-Kingdom, Switzerland, Spain, Greece, Bulgaria, Czech-Republic and Germany.

[16] Solidar Foundation, The consequences of youth unemployment and early job insecurity in Europe.

[17] European Court of Auditors, 4 April 2017 Special Report.

[18] Ibid.

[19] In April 2015, Act No 61/2015 Coll. on vocational education and training de­tailed what constitutes a good quality apprenticeship offer in the framework of dual education..

[20] European Court of Auditors, 4 April 2017 Special Report.

[21] European Commission, Youth Employment Initiative.

[22] Draft opinion of the committe on Employment and Social Affairs for the committee on budgets on the mandate for the trilogue of the 2018 draft budget

[23] European Court of Auditors, 4 April 2017 Special Report.

[24] European Trade Union Confederation, Press release of 6 April 2017 : EU policy-makers should not confuse volunteering and Youth employment.

[25] Ibid.

[26] European Parliament, Motion for a resolution of 30 March 2017 about the implementation of the European Solidarity Corps.

[27] Eurostat, Press Release of 26 April 2017 :Le taux d’emploi des 20-64 ans supérieur à 70% en 2015.

[28] OECD data.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Eurostat, communiqué de presse 17 octobre 2016 : La proportion de personnes menacées de pauvreté ou d’exclusion sociale dans l’UE retrouve son niveau d’avant crise.

[31] Jean-Claude Juncker, Speech on the state of the Union, 14 September 2016.