Monday, December 27, 2010

Hewitt on Europe and Youth in 2010

Gavin Hewitt of the BBC has posted a wrap-up of the year 2010 in Europe. I'd like to underscore his recurring theme of the beleaguered status of European youth. He begins with three sketches of young people down on their luck: seemingly intelligent and educated young Spaniards queuing for unemployment benefits; a roomful of raised hands when Hewitt asks trade school students if they anticipate emigration; young Italians ready to riot at the broken promises of their government and the generation in power. 

Hewitt goes on to describe their lives in the crushing uncertainly of economic souring, and the new civic religion called "austerity" that most accept only begrudgingly -- because they see no other choice. The year 2011, according to Hewitt, portends to be no less bleak.

"Youth unemployment and austerity are a dangerous cocktail that will play out on the streets of 2011. Austerity challenges a deeply-held idea of a European way of life where the state offers layers of protection. Old certainties are being swept away. Social contracts snapped. An ever-expanding public sector is being pruned. Europe, in the long term, may benefit from a smaller state sector, but no one should underestimate the shock of the new. [...]
In 2011 the orthodoxy of austerity, I suspect, will be challenged. The Greeks are tiring of the lean years that seem to stretch out before them. A new government in Ireland may try and renegotiate the terms of the EU/IMF loan. Increasingly voices question the fairness of it all. In Ireland the banks' debts were taken onto the government's books and the country headed for insolvency. A proud country [and in Ireland's case, an overwhelmingly young one] has sacrificed its independence - that's how many in Ireland see it.
It is a fair bet that in 2011 one or more country will restructure its debt.
Increasingly, when one returns from the streets of Greece or France or Italy, Brussels seems a side-show. While the unemployment lines lengthen for young people Europe's elite is preoccupied with institutions, with their place in the world. They have strategies for growth - but in the distant future. The discussions too often appear inward-looking. Occasionally there is a flicker of reality. The European Parliament, for instance, led the way in challenging bankers' bonuses. [...]
The most powerful person in Europe, without doubt, has been Angela Merkel. Europe is changing because Germany is discovering its self-interest and confidence. It has probably the best economy in the world, with unbeatable brands... [The] internal debate in Germany - which surfaced in 2010 - [is] whether it should look after Germany first or buttress European solidarity... German voters will largely determine the future direction of Europe.
I would bet on the euro surviving, but there will be more crises on the way. It would be a mistake to underestimate the determination of a European elite to defend their project.
But 2011 is shaping up to be a year of upheaval in Europe.
Europe's leaders need to find the language to address this crisis. When I was in Dublin, Bill Clinton was in town. He made the point that you can't sell austerity without hope. That seems to me the challenge for Europe's leaders - what do they offer a young generation?"