Cuts now, jobs later - Europe is abandoning a generation

At last, politicians are talking about youth unemployment, but their efforts don't go far enough.

Can Europe afford to ignore the needs of its younger generation? Youth disillusionment and unemployment are notable features of this economic era. In some EU youth unemployment is over thirty per cent. What are national politicians and supranational bodies doing about this? Recently we have heard a few weak promises about future policies. Yet austerity measures continue to reduce state spending and therefore employment and growth.

On 14 June, labour and finance ministers from Germany, Spain, France, and Italy met in Rome for a meeting titled "Jobs for Youth: Building Opportunities, Opening Paths". The Italian prime minister, Enrico Letta, praised the conference for gathering the ministers in charge of state finances and budgets alongside their colleagues responsible for employment. Economic growth and job opportunities should be created through inter-governmental (and international) cooperation.

This shouldn't be any kind of political novelty, yet Letta suggested that "this is a distinctive day", and "a pride for us that Rome is the European capital city against youth unemployment". (Indeed, Rome is unfortunately the capital city of many actual young job seekers.)

The policy behind this "Jobs for Youth" plan is to promote small and medium businesses, in part through the European Investment Bank. Though it may have some effect in the long run, little was said on how to help people now. In fact, Italy's finance minister Fabrizio Saccomanni made clear there would be no turning away from austerity when he said: "the consolidation of states' finances is a prerequisite for policies against unemployment". The EU approach is that austerity and growth can be part of the same policy.

How this would contribute to the well-being of a fearful (and feared) European youth is not clear. The voices of young Europeans remain unheard. Unsurprisingly, some young people will vote for extremist and anti-establishment forces, and even reject the ideal of a European Union. One should wonder if "people" really are at the centre of the European elites' outlook.

The German prime minister, Angela Merkel, recently told the BBC that "mobility" is key, however unfair it might seem. Young Europeans should move where the jobs are. But how many European countries have flourishing job markets and high demand for labour? And which sectors of the economy? What should be done to help the "jobless" areas that will be deprived of a young and skilled workforce? Merkel's advice also misses the fact that migration for employment already takes place.

Increased migration and support for small businesses won't solve the problem alone. The young people of Europe need more than that to realise their dream of a better society, and to feel part of the EU project. For that, a range of public spending is needed, but instead many countries are reducing their funding of social security and education. A poor, young and angry labour force is a problem for any economic system, and it's hardly a route to prosperity for the European continent.

Andrea Mammone is a historian of modern and contemporary Europe at Royal Holloway, University of London

On your Fahrrad: The German Chancellor Angela Merkel. (Getty.)

Andrea Mammone is a historian of modern and contemporary Europe at Royal Holloway, University of London.

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The conflict in Yemen is a civil war by numbers

Amid the battles, a generation starves.

Ten thousand dead – a conservative estimate at best. Three million internally displaced. Twenty million in need of aid. Two hundred thousand besieged for over a year. Thirty-four ballistic missiles fired into Saudi Arabia. More than 140 mourners killed in a double-tap strike on a funeral. These are just some of the numerical subscripts of the war in Yemen.

The British government would probably prefer to draw attention to the money being spent on aid in Yemen – £37m extra, according to figures released by the Department for International Development in September – rather than the £3.3bn worth of arms that the UK licensed for sale to Saudi Arabia in the first year of the kingdom’s bombing campaign against one of the poorest nations in the Middle East.

Yet, on the ground, the numbers are meaningless. What they do not show is how the conflict is tearing Yemeni society apart. Nor do they account for the deaths from disease and starvation caused by the hindering of food imports and medical supplies – siege tactics used by both sides – and for the appropriation of aid for financial gain.

Since the war began in March 2015 I have travelled more than 2,500 miles across Yemen, criss-crossing the front lines in and out of territories controlled by Houthi rebels, or by their opponents, the Saudi-backed resistance forces, or through vast stretches of land held by al-Qaeda. On those journeys, what struck me most was the deepening resentment expressed by so many people towards their fellow Yemenis.

The object of that loathing can change in the space of a few hundred metres. The soundtrack to this hatred emanates from smartphones resting on rusting oil drums, protruding from the breast pockets of military fatigues, or lying on chairs under makeshift awnings where flags denote the beginning of the dead ground of no-man’s-land. The rabble-rousing propaganda songs preach to the watchful gunmen about a feeble and irreligious enemy backed by foreign powers. Down the road, an almost identical scene awaits, only the flag is different and the song, though echoing the same sentiment, chants of an opponent altogether different from the one decried barely out of earshot in the dust behind you.

“We hate them. They hate us. We kill each other. Who wins?” mused a fellow passenger on one of my trips as he pressed green leaves of the mildly narcotic khat plant into his mouth.

Mohammed was a friend of a friend who helped to smuggle me – dressed in the all-black, face-covering garb of a Yemeni woman – across front lines into the besieged enclave of Taiz. “We lose everything,” he said. “They win. They always win.” He gesticulated as he spoke of these invisible yet omnipresent powers: Yemen’s political elite and the foreign states entangled in his country’s conflict.

This promotion of hatred, creating what are likely to be irreversible divisions, is necessary for the war’s belligerents in order to incite tens of thousands to fight. It is essential to perpetuate the cycle of revenge unleashed by the territorial advances in 2014 and 2015 by Houthi rebels and the forces of their patron, the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. This demand for retribution is matched by those who are now seeking vengeance for the lives lost in a UK-supported, Saudi-led aerial bombing campaign.

More than 25 years after the two states of North and South Yemen united, the gulf between them has never been wider. The political south, now controlled by forces aligned with the Saudi-led coalition, is logistically as well as politically severed from the north-western territories under the command of the Houthi rebels and Saleh loyalists. Caught in the middle is the city of Taiz, which is steadily being reduced to rubble after a year-long siege imposed by the Houthi-Saleh forces.

Revenge nourishes the violence, but it cannot feed those who are dying from malnutrition. Blowing in the sandy wind on roadsides up and down the country are tattered tents that hundreds of thousands of displaced families now call home. Others have fled from the cities and towns affected by the conflict to remote but safer village areas. There, food and medical care are scarce.

The acute child malnutrition reported in urban hospitals remains largely hidden in these isolated villages, far from tarmac roads, beyond the reach of international aid agencies. On my road trips across Yemen, a journey that would normally take 45 minutes on asphalt could take five hours on tracks across scrubland and rock, climbing mountainsides and descending into valleys where bridges stand useless, snapped in half by air strikes.

Among the other statistics are the missing millions needed by the state – the country’s largest employer. Workers haven’t been paid in months, amid fears of an economic collapse. This is apparently a deliberate tactic of fiscal strangulation by the Saudi-backed Yemeni government-in-exile. The recent relocation of the central bank from the Houthi-controlled capital, Sana’a, to the southern city of Aden is so far proving symbolic, given that the institution remains devoid of funds. The workforce on both sides of the conflict has taken to the streets to protest against salaries being overdue.

Following the deaths of more than 140 people in Saudi-led air strikes on a funeral hall on 8 October, Saleh and the Houthi leader, Abdulmalik al-Houthi, called for yet more revenge. Within hours, ballistic missiles were fired from within Houthi territory, reaching up to 350 miles into Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, in the Red Sea, Houthi missile attacks on US warships resulted in retaliation, sucking the US further into the mire. Hours later, Iran announced its intention to deploy naval vessels in the area.

Vengeance continues to drive the violence in Yemen, which is being drawn ever closer to proxy conflicts being fought elsewhere in the Middle East. Yet the impact on Yemeni society and the consequences for the population’s health for generations to come are unlikely to appear to the outside world, not even as annotated numbers in the brief glimpses we get of this war. 

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood