Reducing youth unemployment: Why Europe should not celebrate yet

Despite the decrease of the unemployment rate at the EU level, it is noteworthy that the percentage of jobless people remain at high levels, especially in Southern Europe, after seven years of the financial crisis.

According to the most recent data, not surprisingly, Greece remains a “champion” of unemployment with a rate of 23.5%, much higher than the average 9.5% of the euro area. In the meanwhile, almost half a million of Greeks have left their country, in search of better living conditions all around the world. Most importantly, the vast majority of them are in a young and more productive age.

Taking into account this factor, as well as the large number of unregistered or underemployed employees, it is still early to celebrate for the decrease in rates of unemployment in Spain (18.2%), Cyprus (12.5%), Italy (11.7%) and Croatia (11.3%).

In this regard, according to a ECB report published earlier this month, the real unemployment rate is almost double (18%) than the one published by Eurostat (9.5%).

Youth unemployment

One of the most disappointing fact is that the young people have suffered more severely the effects of unemployment.

In Greece, one out of two young people under-25 has no job, while the percentage is 17.2% in the euro area.

The impact of Youth Guarantee, a programme launched in 2013, has raised questions, as young people are getting uncertain and low-paid jobs or internships, with little prospect of career developments.

Moreover, the Youth Guarantee sometimes works in the favour of employers who deny to sign permanent contracts and prefer the solution of “rented” short-term employees.

Investment for jobs 

Lack of direct investments, recession and uncertainty are inhibitory factors for a real increase of employment levels.

Also, the challenges of the current working environment are huge since the early career steps of job seekers. Globalization has raised huge demands for the organizations, companies and consequently for the candidates’ skills.

In the EU, the issue of youth unemployment has been recognised, but the measures have been proved inadequate until now.

While the Member States are complaining about the austerity that the ECB and the institutions impose, Mario Draghi affirmed that monetary policy cannot take the whole weight of the economic recovery. Moreover, he has repeatedly urged governments to implement reforms to reduce structural unemployment.

In the EU Commission’s Spring Package, a great emphasis has been given to growth and jobs’ creation, while country-specific recommendations have been provided.

‘We need to restore opportunities for those who left behind and keep pace with changing skills needs by investing in high quality education and training’, said Marianne Thyssen, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Labour.

Image: dreamlandia

 

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Fake news in the post-truth era

Did Mark Zuckerberg announce his resignation from Facebook? Was a restaurant in Texas shut down for serving human meat? Does Iceland pay $5,000 per month to immigrants who marry Icelandic women?

Commonly known as “fake news” or “hoaxes”, the majority of them are obviously no-sense. Usually based on conspiracy theories, they tend to have even mythical and religious content. Despite the laughter they may provoke, some of them can distort the truth, especially when they are interfering into politics.

Last year, three months before the British referendum, the Sun in its front page published the title: “Queen backs Brexit”. It was a fake news, refuted by Buckingham Palace, but did everyone know about it?

In July 2016, the satire web site WTOE 5 News reported that Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump for President of the United States. This hoax was largely consumed from online media all around the world, provoking many questions about the trustworthiness of the information received from the social media.

Worries in the European public sphere

At the EU level, many MEPs are worried about this increasing phenomenon, and some of them ask for a more integrated policy, especially in the social media sector. In April, many called on internet companies to fasten their efforts so that false and defamatory content is removed quickly. Some also asked the European Commission to propose new EU legislation in this field.

In this regard, many concerns exist about the disinformation spread from radical parties. Some studies also address the Russian influence, with the dissemination of online propagandist material.

Unesco’s Information & Communication spokesperson Frank La Rue, in occasion of a media conference in Brussels, said that it is important to start analysing the issue of fake news that right-wing sort of populist politicians are trying to use to discredit the media.

Methods for tackling online disinformation

Since the main source of fake news consumption is Facebook, the biggest social network, in collaboration with Associated Press, has recently launched the “fast checking” tool, filtering news and mentioning if they are true or not. Moreover, softwares are currently being developed, with the aim of collecting news from trustworthy websites and reporting or removing fake news.

Digital control: Solution or censorship?

According to the Oxford Dictionaries, we live in the post-truth era. It means that we value truth less than facts that satisfy our emotions, personal expectations, beliefs and ideologies.

Moreover, algorithms defining what to write, what to read and what to believe can provoke a profound violation of our freedom of expression and access to information.

The build of a more critical public sphere that checks and rejects fake news could be the best solution. Users should be encouraged to have a more active role in protecting the truth and rationalism, reporting online disinformation and really questioning the truth of stories they meet online.

This can only be achieved through education of young people, awareness-raising campaigns and knowledge strengthening.

 

Image: BBC/Getty Images

Mapping the post-2020 Cohesion Policy

In the fourth year of the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) 2014-2020, crucial questions have been raised concerning the impact of the Cohesion Policy on the EU regions.

According to recent data of Eurostat concerning 2015, the disparities among the European regions have remained stable, taking into account that 19 regions are below 50% in PPS per inhabitant of the EU 28, while 4 regions have more than the double percentage of the EU average.

Despite the unemployment’s reduction in 8,2% at the EU-28 in 2016, all the countries of the Southern Europe still hold a percentage over 10%, while Greece and Spain score 23 and 18,4% respectively.

Post-2020 reform: What has been done until now?

In February, the European Parliament published a summary on the challenges for the post-2020 Cohesion Policy. In particular, this briefing describes the current situation for the programming period 2014-2020 and analyzes the upcoming challenges and goals.

The European Commission will present a proposal for the post-2020 MFF before the 1st of January 2018. In the meanwhile, issues such as migration, security and investment policy have made the reform of the MFF essential, as well as it is probable that the Brexit will have an impact on the EU budget.

Priorities

The main priorities defined by the Commissioner of the Regional Policy, Corina Cretu concerning the reform of the Cohesion Policy, are flexibility, performance, economic governance along with structural reforms and simplification.

More concretely, special focus will be given on the better access to the SMEs, simplification in administrative procedures, the use of online tools and the assistance by the local communities in the implementation of the projects. Also, the main thematic areas that will be covered are the Research and Development, low-carbon economy, employment, SMEs and the ICT sector.

Urban Agenda

The adoption of the Pact of Amsterdam in June 2016 puts the cities in the core of the Cohesion Policy and their contribution should be reinforced for a sustainable and inclusive growth. In this regard, 50% of the ERDF will be invested in the urban areas.

EFSI funds

Another topic of a high importance is the EFSI funding and the Financial Instruments and their contribution in the development of the regions, through the leverage of 315 billion euros until the end of 2020.

Until now, the main concerns in regard to the implementation of the EFSI is the potential competition with the ESI funds and the over-optimistic goals of the particular programme. In this regard, the CoR and the EP have emphasized at the importance in the complementarity of EFSI with the structural funds and the better synergies between these tools.

Photo: pes.cor.europa.eu

EU strengthens its communications strategy to build the trust of citizens

Undoubtedly, 2017 is a crucial year for the European Union. Following the Brexit vote in June 2016 and the anti-European Trump’s election in November 2016, as well as the nationalists’ voice (Lepen, Wilders) increasing all around Europe, the Union will certainly have to give its battle to go ahead.

Apart from the political challenge, expressed emphatically with the presence of the 27 EU leaders declaring unity in Rome last week, the Union has to face another more important one: The battle of communication.

“After the crisis, the EU found itself in an uncharted territory”, said European Commission’s Director for Strategy and Corporate Communication Mikel Alvarez, in an event on March 28th. “There is a decline of trust of citizens (towards the institutions) in the last 10 years”, he added, mentioning the necessity for the EU to execute an integrated communication strategy.

One intense critical point about the structure of the EU is its lack of communication with the European citizens. Brussels is considered as a place of punishment for the “untamed” member states, institutions are blamed for producing bureaucracy, while the EU officials are considered as faceless technocrats who have no relation with reality. On top of that, the financial crisis and the migration enlarged the negative criticism, strengthening Euroscepticism all around Europe.

“We have to construct a narrative of hope and show what the EU can do for Europeans, showing the human side of the policies”, said Alvarez, emphasizing at the importance of using different communications channels, taking into account the needs of citizens belonging in different target groups, nationalities, age and cultures of Europe.

In this regard, the EC’s Communications chief presented some relevant projects. The “InvestEU”, an online campaign informing the citizens about the impact of the Investment Plan on the citizens, the “SMARP” project, a campaign involving the EC employees’ active presence in social media and the “60 Rome”, including 60 minutes’ videos of people describing the benefits of living in the Union.

Mediating the EU policies to the public

Communication plays an increasingly important role in the EU affairs. The EU bugdet, directly or indirectly, covers various communication activities. For instance, €185,5 million are spent for the “Europe of Citizens” programme during the period 2014-2020, aimed at strengthening the European identity. Another programmes are the European Citizens’ Initiative and Debating Europe, an online platform of discussion.

Raising awareness activities, social media campaigns, events’ organization are among the top priorities of the EU-funded programmes. To that extent, the broader communication of projects and the dissemination of their outcomes to the public are intensely encouraged by the Commission.

The European Parliament has also repeatedly emphasized at the build of trust between the EU and the citizens. EP communication activities include the usage of digital tools, streamlined videos in 24 languages, audiovisual material and an intense presence in Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. In addition, the MEPs are constantly increasing their online presence, while an important part of their expenses is spent in various events such as conferences, exhibitions, film projections, etc.

Photo: European Commission

5G network: A new era for the EU

A new generation of network technologies, known as 5G, is entering the digital market of the EU in 2018, opening new prospects for the digital and business models. 5G is a challenging technological concept referring to the transition of the broadband Internet to incredibly high speeds, through which several devices and interfaces will be able to connect to each other.

Possible positive impacts of 5G connection

This innovative ecosystem can certainly involve several players from business and industry and could affect our daily lives.
In which way? Firstly, the high-speed connections from 1 to 10 Gbps will bring a revolution in information and communications technology, introducing virtualization and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies in our online interactions and making them much more efficient. Although the market perspectives have not been defined in terms of consumer demand, there are possible scenarios for the 5G’s usage. For instance, E-health applications could be created, through which patients in their own home would be able to monitor their blood pressure, pulse and breathing rate. Through the transmission of these data, a health service would intervene in case of need.

The transition towards a 5G wireless connection will also affect the transport and especially the vehicles. New automated driverless cars are tested in several countries of Europe, under the support of the European Automotive Telecom Alliance, the newly established organization of the European Commission, involving six countries. The research is at a primary stage, while “test-drives” have started taking place all over Europe.

High-risk challenges?

Various concerns exist, concerning the privacy and to what extent the personal data of users will be protected. Also, the prevention of hacking actions or cyber-attacks remains among the top priorities of the policy-makers. “It is a really challenging issue, but the key is the trust”, said Charanzova, MEP and Vice-Chair of IMCO, in a Politico’s event last week.

Winners and losers

According to optimistic estimations, a mass number of new investments in the wireless technology will create 22 million jobs at a global level. Entrepreneurs, employees in the manufacturing and the industrial sector and IT specialists will have many opportunities in this innovative ecosystem. However, there are concerns that traditional jobs will disappear (e.g. car drivers). As for the GDP, it is expected to increase by 4%.

5G network in the EU

In September 2016, the Commission published a Communication Paper, proposing several targeted actions to the Member States, the industry and the stakeholders for the intensification of research activities, the strengthening of the partnerships and the improvement of the current providing network facilities.

In December 2016, the Council and the European Parliament agreed to make 700 MHz band available for wireless broadband by 2020. This development will certainly accelerate the development of the 5G wireless networks in the Member States which will approve these measures at the national level.

Nevertheless, the creation of a “digital-friendly” environment is not sufficient without the support of the private sector and the coordination between the EU countries. The current investments are limited at the EU level and for this reason, the European Commission Vice-President Andrus Ansip called the Member States for more actions, in February 2017. The Commission is currently promoting the research programmes related to the IoT, Open Data and 5G connections under the framework of Horizon 2020. Under the EFSI funds, until now the total investment on digital technologies have reached almost €1.9 billion in research and innovation projects focused on energy, transport and societal issues.

 

Photo: Software Pride/Flickr