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Lack of prospects

Sabrina Pabst / glbDecember 27, 2013

High unemployment, strict austerity, weak economic growth: people in Europe's crisis-stricken states worry about the future, in particular the youth. Could their frustration manifest itself in radicalization?

Youth unemployment and graffiti in Spain
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Slowly but surely, Europe is dragging itself out of its economic crisis. According to latest forecasts, the overall eurozone economy will grow by around 1 percent in the coming year. Even in the states that have been plagued by crisis, economic growth has returned, albeit far too weak to make any real improvements to the labor market.

Unemployment, in particular among young people, will continue to be a very serious problem in this sixth year of economic crisis. In October 2013, there were more than 3.5 million unemployed Europeans under the age of 25; in Greece and Spain, youth unemployment is well over 50 percent.

Spanien Protest Demonstration Puerta del Sol Madrid
Anger among young people has found a vent on the streets in SpainImage: picture alliance/Fabian Stratenschulte

But when it comes to job perspectives, the odds have been stacked against younger generations in southern Europe since before the current crisis began. Karl Brenke of the German Institute for Economic Research said there are structural reasons behind the unemployment crisis: the majority of young people in southern and eastern Europe simply don't have proper qualifications.

Resignation rather than revolt?

Politicians have registered the problem of youth unemployment. Over the summer, the EU organized a summit dedicated to the issue that it called a "top priority." The summit served the interests of European politicians who do not want to bear the responsibility for having created a "lost generation."

And for good measure: Brenke warned that the consequences of such a generation could be a "distancing of young people to society."

Karl Brenke of the German Institute for Economic Research
Brenke warns of the consequences of neglecting the youthImage: Anna Blancke, DIW Berlin

"The first feeling is disappointment," said political scientist Christian Brzinsky-Fay of Berlin's Social Science Research Center, who has researched the transition of young people from school to working life. "It is critical that these people find a job soon, because this initial sense of disappointment can lead to frustration that can in turn become long-term resignation."

The image of young people in Europe, however, is not one of resignation. Especially in many southern countries, the young people appear willing to fight for their future. In Spain, for instance, there are the Indignados who have taken their anger to the streets. This comes in addition to protests for change in many countries where people feel deceived by governments that promised a secure future, prosperity and the chance to raise a family.

The situation has led to a culture of protest that has occasionally manifested itself in public outrage: "This is the protest of a generation - these people see themselves as exploited by the older generation. They are the ones who have to pay for the mistakes of the past, for the creation and establishment of dysfunctional states and political systems," said Brzinsky-Fay.

Anti-racism protests in Athens
Counter protests have taken place on the streets of AthensImage: Reuters

Radicalization as self-defense

This protest movement has also at least partly spurred a number of euroskeptic and populist political groups in Europe. They have found a common scapegoat in the European Union, which they hold responsible for the deplorable economic state.

If this political atmosphere remains, Europe's populists may be successful at the EU's parliamentary elections next May. "We are seeing that rightwing populists have enjoyed success in France, the Netherlands and in Scandinavia," said Brzinsky-Fay.

At the same time, however, he said he doesn't fear any tangible radicalization of European society - the culture of democracy is too strong here. "Radicalization is a classic reaction to the lack of prospects. Not everyone who feels robbed of prospects is going to become a right-wing extremist."