EUth and EUnification: dynamism, drama and development


Jonathan Liebman, Anna Mazarakis, Michelle Nedashkovskaya, Madeleine Planeix-Crocker and Jackson Salter

student group at Princeton University
Supervisor: Dr. Marzenna James

Abstract: This article examines the role of youth—students and young professionals—in the European Union. The crippling financial crisis confronting this generation renders its position in the EU job market particularly precarious. This article analyses the opportunities for student and young professional mobility through structural and infrastructural programmes offered by EU bodies and European cities. Mobility is a critical factor: a symbol of agency and emancipation, it is the necessary key for EU youth to reinvent a dynamic union in which they can thrive.

Growing nationalist demands and a persistent financial crisis continue to destabilise unity within the European Union and its 28 member states. The European Union’s political and economic cohesion has suffered a severe blow. Changing political, economic and social trends have diminished unity between the cultures and traditions once serving as a basis for the EU’s shared identity. More importantly, the younger European generations now facing these pressing issues are disinterested in the political and economic future of the EU. Often cast aside in major social debates and excluded from political hierarchies, European youth are left on the margins of the EU’s reconstruction at this moment of financial, political and cultural crisis. It is time for the EU to unify its youth, and, in turn, for European youth to regain faith in the EU.

In this paper, we will argue for ways in which the EU can be more appealing to its younger residents so they will want to stay and contribute to the economic and political success of their home countries and the EU as a whole. Though youth is a fluid category rather than a strict age group, we will adopt UNESCO’s definition of youth as “a period of transition from the dependence of childhood to adulthood’s independence and awareness of our interdependence as members of a community”, typically ranging from ages 15 to 24. Our paper also discusses
the importance of augmenting mobility across the EU in order to improve youth futures and prevent social decay. We interpret mobility as more than merely physical displacement, agreeing with the European Commission’s definition of “creating structures and changing values to allow movement of institutions, people and resources in a way that accelerates the transition to an innovative Europe” (Aho 2006). This definition acknowledges mobility as a broad aspirational movement facilitating intergenerational, occupational and socioeconomic dynamism.

There must be opportunities for greater education and mobility for the youth within the EU.

Overall, there must be opportunities for greater education and mobility for the youth within the EU. We will explore how the talents and creativity of young EU citizens could be better utilised and discuss the benefits of existing EU programmes that emphasise cultural and linguistic exchanges. We will then offer suggestions for the improvement of the programmes, including a component that would encourage professional cultural exchanges and mobility opportunities for the EU youth. Finally, we will present the case study of a creative city and EU programmes that focus on promoting youth employment through innovation. We believe that these solutions will help the future stability and youth appeal of the EU.

Public education reform for societal transformation

As Europe faces a turning point, a discussion on education reform is crucial. After all, education shapes the way we think and our ability to cope with greater societal challenges. The right reforms could allow future generations to approach crises not only with more advanced skills and a willingness to innovate, but also with more open minds
and a greater capacity to empathise. Our specific proposals place a focus on bolstering European integration, increasing mobility and improving socioeconomic equality within the EU youth population.

Firstly, we propose the creation of an EU-wide high school course on European integration, taught in all high schools throughout EU member states in a harmonised fashion. The course would include study materials offered by the EU, which would include a diversity of opinions from different member states, while also focusing on intercultural training, European values, minority rights and diversity. Students would also be offered an opportunity for an excursion to EU-related institutions. The course would aim to foster greater transnational solidarity and increase political engagement among youth on the European level.

55% of German and French students support the implementation of a common EU baccalaureate

In addition to the EU integration course, we propose an EU-wide baccalaureate. A survey conducted in April 2013 showed that 55% of German and French students support the implementation of a common EU baccalaureate (TerraEuropa 2014: 18). This is not an entirely new concept; in fact, the European baccalaureate is currently administered as an exit exam in the European school system, a group of 14 multilingual schools geared toward the children of European institution officials. In 2014 a total of 25,385 pupils attended such schools, 78% of whom are EU officials’ children and are exempt from school fees (Board of governors of the European schools 2014). European school pupils may use the European baccalaureate to apply to any university in an EU member state on the same terms as a national of that member state with equivalent qualifications (Board of governors of the European schools 1994). This system, however, is only accessible to a small and elite population. Such a baccalaureate, if administered to all EU youth, could enhance both education- and career-based mobility opportunities.

In addition to furthering mobility, education reform can also help to instil important values in EU youth. Following the January 2015 terror attacks in Paris, a report by the European Commission asserts the responsibility of public education to create openminded human beings, to prevent “marginalisation, intolerance, racism and radicalisation” and to combat inequalities that can “lead to despair and create a fertile ground for extremism” (European Council 2015). The European integration course and baccalaureate can help fulfil these goals by emphasising human dignity, multicultural understanding and other fundamental values, thus giving rise to more empathy among EU youth. The curriculum would also combat unhealthy nationalism by presenting European history through a European-wide rather than nationally skewed perspective.

Moreover, efforts are necessary in order to address socioeconomic determinism of students’ success. This is especially important considering 12.7% of students in Europe drop out before completing high school (European Commission 2013:8) and education systems within the EU range greatly in effectiveness. According to the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2012 results, the French system, for example, ranks 60th out of 65 in terms of equity in education opportunities, meaning that it is comparatively hard to overcome socioeconomic handicaps (OECD 2012:3). Meanwhile, other countries, notably Finland, rank at the top of the list both in terms of student performance and equity. This gap between member states should be closed for a more unified Europe in which one’s country of origin does not affect his or her chances to obtain a robust education.

Education and mobility: overview and opportunities for expansion

Inextricably linked to the social and economic issues that the EU faces are insufficient mobility and human capital development, particularly among youth. The paramount importance of mobility goes back to the EU’s foundational documents; indeed, the EU’s community acquis dedicates its first four chapters to outlining the primary liberties integral to the idea and ideal of the EU: the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital. Yet Europe has failed to live up to its promise: taking just one measure as a representative example, annual worker mobility between EU member states is pitifully under 1% each year—just a fraction of the rates seen across Australian territories and US states (IZA 2008). The results of this stillborn geographic, economic and ideational mobility are manifest, both in enduring economic disparities and societal discord and estrangement currently wreaking havoc upon the EU. Immobility in turn propels far-right xenophobic and eurosceptic movements across the continent. In the face of such geographic, economic and social stagnation, enhanced mobility thus provides an essential solution to ensuring the EU’s continued integration on social and economic levels alike.

Accordingly, we believe educational exchange provides a vital means to increase mobility among EU youth. Certain programmes like the Erasmus programme take promising steps to this end; however, robust mobility is still far from being realised, and problems arise even within that programme. In some studies, over 50% of participating students faced significant financial difficulties due to insufficient grant monies, while lack of full credit transfer led to a lengthening of students’ anticipated studies—an outcome with particularly pernicious effects on lower-income students. Perhaps most seriously, European Commission statistics indicate that flows of students are disproportionately skewed, resulting in a situation in which students move from lower-GDP, predominantly Eastern European countries towards higher-GDP Western European countries (Čelebič 2007). This worrying result may presage future intra-EU brain drains and further economic and sociopolitical marginalisation of the periphery. Finally, programmes are only beginning to offer opportunities for students not pursuing formal academic education. More work needs to be done to promote integration and exchange among youth pursuing artistic careers and technical and vocational training.

Flows of students are disproportionately skewed, resulting in a situation in which students move from lower-GDP, predominantly Eastern European countries.

One sign of progress is the creation of Erasmus+, an expansion of the original Erasmus programme, designed to run between 2014–20 and fostering exchanges in education, training, and sport. The expansion of exchange to less traditional arenas such as vocational training and sports-based initiatives is a promising philosophical shift towards a more comprehensive exchange regime. However, care must be taken that the execution of Erasmus+ is as inclusive and successful as its ideological ambit. While Erasmus+ is relatively new, research on funding insufficiencies, imbalanced population flows and institutional harmonisation failures revealed in previous programmatic iterations have hampered past attempts to achieve mobility and integration through exchange.

As Erasmus+ proceeds, the cautionary tales of past programmatic deficiencies provide a series of concrete checks against which the programme must be analysed in order to ensure its effective functioning. Erasmus+ must be rigorously evaluated on an ongoing basis to ensure that financial stipends are sufficient to cover participant expenses incurred on programme, especially for participants of little means or those belonging to socially
marginalised classes; that transnational intra-EU exchanges are comprehensive and nationally equalised, avoiding an imbalanced and socially pernicious flow of participants from the periphery to the centre; and that participating European institutions enter into agreements with Erasmus+ facilitating easy transfer of academic credits such that participants are enabled to freely go on exchange without fear of interruption in their studies or training. Finally, looking past Erasmus+’s 2020 end date, further steps to augment exchange-oriented pathways to enhanced mobility are appropriate. Other opportunities for increased reach include an arts-oriented exchange programme—an area heretofore neglected by Erasmus+—as well as better-defined procedures to foster and evaluate programmatic success in promoting equity and inclusion among diverse European groups.

Education: career and entrepeneurship orientation

Although the European Commission has acted to implement and enforce strategies fostering youth development programmes in each of the member states separately, it leaves career development programmes’ potential as a vehicle for European integration largely untapped. An alternative approach to fostering employability and entrepreneurship among European youth would focus not only on programmes within each member state, but also on a larger scale, contributing to the development of a European collective identity as European students from various regions live and work together.

One programme proposal for European integration via career and entrepreneurship development among European youth might be inspired by the structure of Erasmus+, which could be expanded or replicated to improve the sustainability and pragmatism of youth exchange programmes by implementing a career-oriented shift to these projects. Rather than focusing only on language and culture, we hope to encourage such programmes to expand their horizons, potentially creating a separate branch dedicated to career discovery, development and placement. Perhaps in conjunction with the careeroriented aspect of youth exchange programmes or in a separate branch devoted exclusively to research opportunities and scholarship, European integration programmes could move to institutionalise EU-wide opportunities to spark innovation. Sample ideas include European-wide hackathons in which each team must be composed of members from at least three EU member states and similar EU-wide competitions for STEM and energy.

More concretely, an expanded Erasmus+ programme may feature a new branch of the initiative that deals with professional exchanges, taking the form of EU-wide networking events, internship exchanges and apprenticeships by field of study or professional interest. The Erasmus website could then be revamped to feature various exchange options including cultural and educational exchange programmes and accommodations, but also offering a career development menu which European students and young professionals could access to view opportunities potentially relevant to their interests. An institute for political science research focused on a certain region of the world, for example, could host research colloquia for students across Europe, posting a simple application to the extended Erasmus internet portal. The creation of such a web portal would allow for the development of a crowd-sourced programme that may be seen as an extension of Erasmus’ original purpose and vision. While younger students continue to glean valuable knowledge and experience from cultural and educational exchange programmes throughout the EU, older students preparing to enter the professional world may continue to use the same networks and connections to launch themselves into careers in countries in which they once studied or to which were otherwise of interest.

Furthermore, the impact of such career-related opportunities for young adults throughout Europe could be supplemented through the development of an accompanying homestay initiative that would make youth exchange programmes more affordable. Young EU citizens interested in registering and participating in this career exchange initiative could also be given the option of opening up their homes to host incoming students and professionals when opportunities happen to open up in their hometown, eliminating or greatly reducing the cost of housing for the incoming student for the duration of their programme.

In order to truly develop their perception of the EU as a collection of neighbour states rather than simply member states, it is necessary to think further down the line than cultural and educational exchange, but also to remember that integration, and even professional and political partnerships, begin with interactions between individuals.
Therefore, it is clear that the current state of programmes for EU youth is one that will benefit immensely from an expansionary initiative integrating the EU employment realm, while making these programmes more affordable.

Mobilising EUth in creative cities

In light of these proposals towards academic and professional development of the EU youth, it is necessary to examine the physical contexts of the union in which this population might thrive and establish long-term careers. The city is a dense, multicultural and dynamic hub. Recently educated youth or young professionals rely heavily on implemented infrastructures within the urban landscape to exercise their full duties and obligations as citizens. However, the European Commission database records a youth unemployment rate of 21.7% in 2014 , more than twice as high as the adult unemployment rate (9.0%). Consequently, it becomes crucial to reintegrate youth in their native city habitat by providing outlets for new and innovative professions. Let us examine two different programmes that strive to reinvigorate city life while encouraging EU youth to concentrate movement in their local urban environment as they transition into diverse careers.

It becomes crucial to reintegrate youth in their native city habitat by providing outlets for new and innovative professions.

The European Capital of Culture is a programme launched in 1985 with the purpose of reinforcing cultural and creative industries (CCI) within EU cities. As such, culture can be articulated as an integral part of EU integration, fostering urban regeneration through the promotion of creative endeavours. Mons, Belgium and Plzeň, Czech Republic are 2015’s incumbent cultural capitals. The case of Mons is particularly compelling; the city is home to three universities and one music conservatory and was once the heart of Belgium’s industrial valley. Upon graduation, students often leave the small city for Brussels or other EU capitals, seeking greater professional opportunities in more dynamic environments. Severely affected by the EU financial crisis, Mons utilised its cultural capital nomination to reinvent itself. The Mons 2015 initiative spearheading infrastructural changes in the cultural capital has decided to reverse the youth exodus by honing its CCI initiatives. Mons has established an active hub of its own, at the intersection of technology and culture, named the Creative Valley, sponsored in part by Microsoft. Technocité, for example, is a professional development centre in the Creative Valley specifically for tech-related jobs and start-ups, allowing recent graduates to reorient or specialise their university studies. The Creative Valley thus becomes attractive for EU youth eager to construct a network of connections while engaging in interdisciplinary and innovative projects in the tech industry. This initiative diversifies Mons’ economy and further grants the cultural capital the title of “creative city”. The hope is to increase the concentration of young professionals within the city of Mons by providing new and compelling infrastructures in which to work and live.

Furthermore, the European summit of creative industries (ECIs) was held in Brussels on May 11, 2015. During this colloquium, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport Tibor Navracsics made the case for the preservation of EU talent within member states. In addition, the ECIs featured nine of the 14 members of the European Creative Business Network (ECBN), an organisation that facilitates intra-EU business collaborations. During the ECIs , the ECBN presented a draft of its 2015 policy manifesto, highlighting the importance of opportunities given to young entrepreneurs. Similar to the European Cultural Capitals programme, the ECBN seeks to catalyse growth in the urban setting, as well as on a regional and international level. The ECBN is also a partner of the EXCITE project under Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs, an initiative that funds professional exchanges and enterprises for EU youth. This programme fosters long-term synergies between the academic and professional lives of EU youth, thus providing a framework in which the target population can grow. As such, culture, media and technology become vehicles for territorial attractiveness, incentivising EU youth to stay in the union. Mons and the ECBN network are successful case studies of programmes that should be sustained and supported by the EU Commission, as they encourage EU students and young professionals to reengage with their urban environment through their work and newly acquired cultural practices.

The EU has reached an impasse with its financial and political troubles, and it has become clear that its greatest hope for change and recovery lies with its youth.

The EU has reached an impasse with its financial and political troubles, and it has become clear that its greatest hope for change and recovery lies with its youth. In order to lead the EU to a greater future, the youth of each European country must actively work together for innovative change. In this paper, we have argued for public education reform that promotes creativity and equality in the classroom and highlights cultural integration
programmes, such as language learning and cultural immersion programmes. These educational changes might also help students realise greater potential in youth employment through entrepreneurship and professional cultural exchanges. We have also argued for infrastructural systems and programmes that can make European cities friendlier and more compelling professionally to the EU’s younger residents. Furthermore, these alterations would allow for greater youth mobility throughout the EU.

The EU has recently faced excessive instability, and the youngest residents of the member states have become disillusioned and disinterested in the union’s future as a result. We believe the proposals we have offered in this paper can lead the EU to a more secure and appealing future. The changes we have proposed will revitalise a destabilised EU, thanks to the dynamism and commitment of the reenergised youth.


Board of governors of the European schools (1994), Convention defining the statute of European schools,, accessed 29 May 2015.

Board of governors of the European schools (2014), Facts and figures on the beginning of the 2014–15 school year in the European schools, getfile/1971/2, accessed 1 Jul 2015.

Aho, E. (2006), Report of the independent expert group on R&D and innovation appointed following the Hampton Court Summit and chaired by Mr. Esko Aho, Office for official publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg: 19.
Čelebič, T. (2007), “Student exchange—Erasmus programme”, Slovenian Economic Mirror 5 (13):18–19.

European Council (2015), Declaration on promoting citizenship and the common values of freedom, tolerance and nondiscrimination through education, 17,2015, accessed 6 Jul 2015.

European Commission (2013), Reducing early school leaving: key messages and policies, education/policy/strategic-framework/doc/esl-group-report_en.pdf, accessed 1 Jul 2015.

Forum d’Avignon, Tibor Navracsics quoted in Compte-rendu #ECIS 2015: “une stratégie tournée vers l’avenir pour la culture et la créativité de l’UE”, culture is future,, accessed 19 May 2015.

IZA (2008), “Geographic mobility in the European Union: optimising its economic and social benefits”, IZA Research Report Series (19).

Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (2014), PISA 2012 results in focus, Paris, OECD: 13.

TerraEuropa (2014), “Repräsentative Befragung junger Erwachsener zu Einstellungen gegenüber der EU und zur Bewertung von europäischen Projekten”, Germany and France.



EUth and EUnification: dynamism, drama and development through transnational solidarity

commentary from European Alternatives
Daphne Büllesbach (Programme Director) and Jackson Oldfield (Senior Project Manager)

“EUth and EUnification” presents a clear picture of select issues within EU programmes and policies, the challenges facing EU youth and changes to address these issues. The authors express faith in the existing EU framework and draw a hopeful picture of youth (re)gaining faith in the EU. The paper proposes interesting ideas to revamp existing policies and practices such as the Erasmus+ programme or the EU-wide rollout of functioning models such as the European Baccalaureate.

Missing, however, was emphasis on the contradiction existing in the European Union, whereby the youth in most countries face increasing economic difficulties, is politically disenchanted with the EU and often doesn’t vote, yet at the same time they feel increasingly European and tend to support the EU at higher levels than older generations.

Additional focus could also have been given to extragovernmental/EU solidarity between EU youth, which is not necessarily related to EU programming but which could be better supported through EU funding. Examples include collaboration between young political party activists from Spanish Podemos, Greek Syriza and the Scottish National Party. All three parties successfully mobilised younger voters and have relatively young leading representatives. The question remains whether this will translate into greater attention to youth policies; nevertheless, these parties have managed to incentivise bottom-up formation of local party youth groups across Europe, arguably contributing to EU-wide solidarity.

These parties have managed to incentivise bottom-up formation of local party youth groups across Europe, arguably contributing to EU-wide solidarity.

The authors write that “the younger European generations now facing these pressing issues are disinterested in the political and economic future of the EU”. It is important to note here the ways in which young Europeans are also being left behind by the EU—since the onset of the financial crisis, youth in Europe have faced extremely high unemployment rates yet to be addressed (Eurostat 2015), while at the same time available work has become more precarious (McKay et al. 2012). EU schemes like the Youth Guarantee have not been rolled out in all EU member states; Germany and the UK are notable exceptions (European Commission, Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion). Despite these problems, in some EU countries support for the EU is highest amongst younger people (Wells 2015).

The idea of an EU-wide high school course on European integration is an interesting suggestion and one that we are also exploring through our own Citizen Rights project. That said, it may not be necessary as all EU countries already have citizenship education as part of their high school curricula. Although this differs widely from member state to member state (Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung 2012), education about the EU must play a key part. Here it may also be worth exploring whether school exchange programmes usually undertaken through language classes could be integrated into the proposed course.

With regards to worker mobility, working in another EU country often requires speaking a second language, meaning that mobility is more closely linked to language education than in comparative economies such as the US or Australia.

Education about the EU must play a key part.

While the comments on the Erasmus programme are quite valid, the latest statistics (2012–13) do not bear out the east-west Erasmus divide—in fact, the largest number came from Spain (perhaps due to the financial crisis), followed by France, Germany and Italy, while the highest share in terms of student population came from Luxembourg (European Commission 2015).

Overall the comments on addressing the issues of social background in the Erasmus and Erasmus+ programmes are well founded and appreciated. An additional idea for increasing youth mobility and contributing to greater understanding was launched this summer by two young Europeans: every European youth receives a free, one-month Interrail pass to explore Europe (Herr & Speer 2015).

When talking of youth development programmes, it may be worth considering the role European Employment Services (EURES) plays and could play in this—many of the topics proposed as possibilities for Erasmus+ are to some extent already performed by this agency, although its recognisability among youth in the EU may not be high.

Creative cities demand further examination of existing initiatives and the roles they could play with an increased youth focus. Of particular interest are EU regional development and social funds, as well as funds regularly provided to cities through Commission programmes such as the partnership for smart cities.

Universal basic income as a new impetus?

Finally, we would like the authors to consider broader horizons and solutions, such as an initiative on universal basic income that could greatly benefit young people for whom enough jobs are neither being created nor may ever be created, considering increasing automation across the labour market. Universal basic income could lead to new forms of innovation and even entrepreneurship which do not require immediate translation into employability parameters or profitability plans. Society could be reimagined from the bottom up, as a utopia about which more and more youths feel increasingly passionate.

European Alternatives is a transnational civil society organisation and citizen movement promoting democracy, equality, and culture beyond the nation state. We believe that the most urgent political, cultural and social challenges can no longer be dealt with at the national level and that existing forms of technocratic global and European governance are neither democratic, just, nor fair.


Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung (2012), “Citizenship education in Europe”, 27 Feb,, accessed 9 Dec 2015.

European Commission (2015), “Education and training statistics”, 4 Dec,, accessed 9 Dec 2015.

European Commission, Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, “The Youth Guarantee country by country”,, accessed 9 Dec 2015.

Eurostat (2015), “Youth unemployment statistics 2014 Q4”, 18 Jun,,_2014Q4_(%25).png, accessed 9 Dec 2015.

Herr, V.-I. & Speer, M. (2015), “Every young European should get a 1-month Interrail pass for free”, 1 Sept,, accessed 14 Dec 2015.

McKay, S., Jeffreys, S., Paraksevopoulou, A. & Keles, J. (2012), “Study on precarious work and social rights”, European Commission, Working Lives Research Institute, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, London Metropolitan University, aspx, accessed 14 Dec 2015.

Wells, A. (2015), “Analysis: EU referendum—the state of public opinion”, YouGov, 22 Sept,, accessed 9 Dec 2015.