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Antwerp, 17 May 2011

"Youth on the Move - Make it Happen" – extracts from President Barroso's participation in the debate

President José Manuel Barroso in Antwerp took part in a debate with young people about "Youth on the Move", the EU initiative aimed at improving education, tackling youth unemployment and encouraging study, training and volunteering abroad. Addressing participants of this event, he said:

"Young people are, and must be, at the heart of Europe's plans".

"No plan for the future can succeed without accounting for the needs and aspirations of young people. That means, in part, understanding what is similar and different between, for instance, my generation and your generation.

I can see that society expects a great deal from young people today. While, today, you enjoy a wider set of options and technologies than my generation – there was no Internet when I was 18 or 20 years of age, there were not these travels we have today, there were not so many of the important developments we've seen in our societies, while you have these kind of resources. The reality is that your environment today is more competitive and pressured than the one my generation has faced when we were growing up. In a relentless and global economy and at a time of crisis, it can hardly be any other way. The extra education that today is needed, before people were expecting to have a graduation and at least in some of our countries, it opened all the doors. Today it is not enough. Even if we know people with great education, they cannot find a job, that's reality. So the extra-education that today is necessary, the expectation that you will save more for a retirement, that will probably come later. All these pressures are more familiar to your generation than to my generation for instance. It is also true that your generation is the one we will trust to keep alive our important achievements in Europe in terms of social security and health-care because there is also a point in terms of intergenerational solidarity. "

He also emphasised that, "from all points of view, from a moral point of view, but also from a self-interest point of view, it is right that the current generation in power supports the efforts of new generation to develop your potential and to enjoy the full possibilities that our European Union offers. It is only right that we see you not as units of labour or perpetual interns, but as full people with a great and an important contribution to make to European life. That is the thinking behind our economic and social strategy – the so-called Europe 2020 strategy."

Talking about this Strategy, he recalled: "I made a deliberate choice in including two specific European targets related to education. The first target is to get the share of early school leavers below 10% and the second is ensure that at least 40% of the young generation obtain tertiary degrees, so a high education. In some countries, this is far from happening. In some countries we have still very huge problems in terms of the early drop-outs or the level of people that have a high level education."

"I have also made a deliberate choice in presenting the Youth on the Move as a flagship element of this strategy – he added - Together, with Commissioner Vassiliou, we have decided to give this a greater visibility and centrality in the programs of the Commission. With the focus of that initiative on skills, employability, mobility, I wanted to give people like each of you full recognition. I wanted to honour your relevance as individuals and as a group, and to ensure that you are ready and able to build a stronger Europe. For example, if we are serious about adapting to a globalised world, we must do more to enable our students to study abroad. The "Youth on the Move" initiative aims to build on the success of the existing Erasmus programme – the most popular program of Europe, I always say – 200 000 young people every year are going to an other country, and give all young people the chance to study in another country. Not only those, that so far are able to do it, but others, if the wish to go and to meet other environment."

He underlined the importance of students' mobility programmes: "Today, it is not a luxury. We understand that these opportunities are more important than ever, and that they must be affordable. Studying abroad improves people's career prospects, and gives them the knowledge, the skills and the experience to function in a competitive world. After all, the mobile student of today will be the mobile creator, entrepreneur of tomorrow."

He recalled that Antwerp is the 2011 European Youth Capital and drew attention of the audience to the traditional openness of this city. "I would like to underline this, he said, because in this moment in Europe, there are some people who want to put borders. They want to close. It is incredible how these ideas can come out. Europe is about openness. Without the openness of borders, we cannot have the single market; we cannot have the freedom of circulation of people. Can you imagine that? Going back now to the period when in order to go from a country to another, we could spend hours and hours to check and cross check, people opening your luggage all the time. It would mean going backwards in term of civilisation. So we need the Europe of freedom of circulation, of people, of goods, of market, of ideas. That was the success of Antwerp, of Flanders, the traditional openness. That is why we are here, a relatively small city with one of the biggest ports in Europe, one of the biggest ports in the world. This is what makes Europe a great opportunity for all of us, and if we accept the narrow ideas of closing, we forget that when we close to others, they can close to us as well. So the idea of closing is self-defeating."

"In fact, Europe needs to do more in terms of openness. In fact, Europe needs to do more in terms of investments in its future. Today, unemployment among the young people under 25s is double the overall average. We have 20.4% of people unemployed and the average in Europe is less than 10%. That's why we need to give young people some prospective for the future. That is why we are asking for your ideas, that is why I think we have to make a concerted effort"– he said.

Answering questions from the audience, President Barroso also said:

  • On Youth policy:

"We have a special duty to young people. We have to show both responsibility and solidarity"

"Supporting the youth is about both morals and self interest."

"It is very worrying that this is the first generation since the war to be less hopeful about its future than the previous generation."

"The best youth policy is to develop their skills and support sources of growth so they have jobs to go to. But reducing debt is also youth policy, because it is taking this burden away from today's generation."

"Many governments were overspending- this is a lack of solidarity with future generations, it means the government of the country is not respecting the future generations."

  • On the European openness:

"Europe is about Openness. Can you imagine spending hours in border queues like in the past? Closing is self-defeating. Europe needs more openness, not less. The capacity to be open is very important today."

"The future of one country affects the future of all- that is what a monetary union is."

"Nationalism is not only morally wrong, it is intellectually inadequate and strategically stupid."

"Aarhus is amazing example of openness and cross fertilization - a engine for green jobs."

  • On the social market economy:

"The basis of our prosperity is our single market and our trade, and we should be proud of that. We need leadership at both national and European level to fight for it. And we need to reject false, simplistic solutions."

"Our job is to create the conditions for the success of policy, and to support the Member States even when it is not our competence because it is in our common interest."

"We want a social market but we do not want dependence on the state - dependence is the death blow for entrepreneurship."

"Entrepreneurship is being able to turn ideas into action."

  • On the mobility in Europe:

"Mobility is not just about travel - it is about learning and adapting to our new world, our new economy. So we have to invest in mobility and protect the freedom of movement."

  • On the knowledge and information:

"Access to information is not the solution... Knowledge is learning how to delete the useless information."

"In Europe we are experts in complaining. Let's do more than complain, let's actually do things that create change", concluded Mr Barroso.

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