Rebecca Taylor MEP: What Can Europe Do For Young People?

Article published on April 20, 2014
Article published on April 20, 2014

The EU is often accused of not caring about young people. But this is a simplification. Some MEPs devote their time to improving the lot of Europe’s youth. Rebecca Taylor is one of them. The Liberal Democrat MEP and Vice President of the European Parliament's Youth Intergroup told Cafébabel what the EU actually does for young people, why human contact beats Twitter and why we love immigration.

Im­mi­gra­tion

Eu­roscep­tics claim that young peo­ple blame high lev­els of youth un­em­ploy­ment on EU im­mi­gra­tion. Ray Finch, a UKIP can­di­date for the Eu­ro­pean elec­tions, told me young peo­ple sup­port UKIP be­cause they are “being de­nied op­por­tu­ni­ties in the jobs mar­ket be­cause of the cheap labour flood­ing in mostly from East­ern Eu­rope.”

But Lib­eral De­mo­c­rat MEP Re­becca Tay­lor says the op­po­site is true. As a mem­ber of Britain’s Eu­rophile party, and vice-pres­i­dent of the EU Youth Intergroup, you may ex­pect her per­spec­tive to be some­what par­ti­san, but it’s backed up by all the polls; the youth are Eu­rophiles; the pen­sion­ers are scep­tics.

“Young peo­ple are over­whelm­ingly pro-Eu­ro­pean mainly be­cause they think of the fu­ture job op­por­tu­ni­ties and they un­der­stand the whole ‘the sin­gle mar­ket is good for em­ploy­ment’ ar­gu­ment,” Tay­lor ex­plains. “They want the op­por­tu­nity to study or work in an­other coun­try, be­cause every­one knows some­one who’s done it.” Three mil­lion stu­dents have ben­e­fit­ted from the Eras­mus pro­gramme since 1987, but Tay­lor high­lights that the ben­e­fits of open bor­ders are not con­fined to uni­ver­sity stu­dents alone. “I’ve got a friend of a friend who’s a plumber who has gone to work in a ski re­sort in the French Alps for six months,” she says, “and one of my brother’s mates left school at 16 to live in Spain for sev­eral years work­ing in a bar.”

"I pre­fer the Jam to Pink Floyd"

But what can politi­cians do to get young peo­ple in­ter­ested in Eu­rope? The 2014 elec­tions have been branded the “Twit­ter Elec­tions”, and the so­cial net­work is often per­ceived as a panacea that will mirac­u­lously rem­edy youth dis­il­lu­sion. UKIP’s Ray Finch tells me Twit­ter is an ex­cel­lent tool for en­gag­ing with young peo­ple, “be­cause it is an in­stant and fo­cused medium.” He likens it to pop­u­lar music, “I al­ways pre­fer The Jam to Pink Floyd as I feel if you can't get your point across in 3 min­utes then you are wast­ing my time. Twit­ter is the same. I can ex­plain my po­lit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy in 140 char­ac­ters.”

On the other hand, Re­becca Tay­lor says Twit­ter is a use­ful tool but it’s not enough. Ac­tu­ally meet­ing young peo­ple is the only way to en­gage them in pol­i­tics. She helped a group of young peo­ple from York­shire come to Brus­sels and she speaks at schools in her York­shire and Hum­ber con­stituency when­ever she can. She laments that de­spite her fre­netic out­reach pro­gramme she prob­a­bly hasn’t even been to 10% of the schools there. But then again, you’d be hard pressed to find a na­tional MP who has. This focus on di­rect en­gage­ment- of get­ting out there and putting your face about- is the essence of grass roots pol­i­tics, a far cry from the face­less, un­car­ing bu­reau­cracy eu­roscep­tics de­pict.

The nuts and Bolts: What the EU ac­tu­ally does

Tay­lor says the Eu­ro­pean Youth Guar­an­tee scheme is the cor­ner­stone of the EU’s ap­proach to youth un­em­ploy­ment. It will guar­an­tee em­ploy­ment, train­ing or fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion to all young peo­ple out of work or ed­u­ca­tion for more than four months. €6 bil­lion has been set aside in the 2014-2020 bud­get. Taylor has also pushed for a Mas­ters loan fa­cil­ity. Bolted onto the Eras­mus scheme, it al­lows every­one to do a Mas­ters de­gree, en­sur­ing pan-Eu­ro­pean par­ity in ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion.

One of Re­becca’s pet pro­jects is the fight against un­paid in­tern­ships, which she sees as a form of so­cial dis­crim­i­na­tion. This has not made her pop­u­lar with other MEPs who profit from the free labour pro­vided by as­pi­ra­tional young­sters. At an event she was con­fronted by an Aus­trian in­tern, “He said, ‘Yes my in­tern­ship is un­paid but it’s a re­ally good ex­pe­ri­ence, it’s going to look great on my CV.’ He didn’t re­ally get the point so I said, ‘Who’s pay­ing for your rent? Who’s buy­ing your food?’ Of course it was his par­ents.”

“An in­tern­ship should be an op­por­tu­nity that’s based on merit, not based on ‘can my mum and dad sup­port me for six months in Brus­sels,” she ex­plains with pas­sion. But not every­one feels the same. Fel­low Lib­eral De­mo­c­rat MEP Sarah Lud­ford was re­cently caught of­fer­ing a six month un­paid in­tern­ship. In March 2014, the EU’s Per­ma­nent Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Com­mit­tee failed woe­fully to end un­paid in­tern­ships in EU in­sti­tu­tions. Lofty rhetoric and large scale youth schemes should be backed up by at­ten­tion to de­tail in the EU’s own back­yard.

Think­ing Young

Taylor’s focus on youth is­sues makes sense con­sid­er­ing she is young for an MEP (39). The av­er­age MEP is 55 and the av­er­age Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sioner is 57. Is this skew to blame for the EU’s fail­ure to deal with youth is­sues? Taylor re­minds me there are MEPs ten years younger than her, but she ac­cepts dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions have dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives. “I’ve had times in my life when it’s been tough to find a job, so I ac­tu­ally know what that feels like,” she says. “When my par­ents went to uni­ver­sity in the late 60s, 5% of the pop­u­la­tion did. You were al­most guar­an­teed a job as a grad­u­ate. Things have changed.”

This gen­er­a­tional di­vide was promi­nent when the Mas­ters loan scheme was being drawn up. Some com­mis­sion­ers said the loan would have to be re­paid, “within a year come what may,” even if the re­cip­i­ent couldn’t find a job. Ap­par­ently the Com­mis­sion, “think that every­one with a Mas­ters’ de­gree just gets a job. Wake up and smell the cof­fee!” Tay­lor ex­claims in­cred­u­lously.

Re­becca Tay­lor seems thor­oughly com­mit­ted to im­prov­ing the lot of Eu­rope’s young peo­ple. It’s easy to beat the EU with the stick of un­prece­dented youth un­em­ploy­ment, and at times Re­becca is crit­i­cal her­self. But to say the EU is not act­ing is a fal­lacy. In­deed, to por­tray the EU as a sin­gle-minded body is the great­est fal­lacy of all. It’s a patch­work of dif­fer­ent philoso­phies and per­spec­tives, and some of these are far more fo­cused and aware of youth is­sues than oth­ers. It’s only by vot­ing in the May elec­tions that the youth of Eu­rope can in­flu­ence these cur­rents. In the words of Re­becca Tay­lor, “if you don’t vote it’ll be other peo­ple de­cid­ing and they’ve got a very dif­fer­ent view of Eu­rope to you.”