European Union
The Double-Crisis Generation

In Spain, Italy and Portugal, the acceptance for democracy is declining in Generation Y
Menschenschlange vor einem spanischen Arbeitsamt
Eine Menschenschlange vor einem spanischen Arbeitsamt © picture alliance / AP Photo | Daniel Ochoa De Olza

On the occasion of the EU Social Summit in Porto, Portugal, the Friedrich-Naumann-Foundation in Madrid and the Spanish think tank EsadeEcPol indicate in a joint cross-border study economic insecurity and the resulting radicalization of political attitudes among young people in Southern Europe.

The "doubly punished crisis generation," i.e., the generation whose members were born between 1985 and 1995, has gone through two global crises at once in the course of their education and integration into the labor market: The (euro) debt crisis, which hit Southern Europe in particular a decade ago and continues to reverberate to this day, is followed by another existential economic crisis as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic. For the first time since World War II, this generation is materially worse off than the generation before it in the examined countries, Spain, Italy and Portugal: For example, it enters the labor market with a lower income than the pre-crisis generation of the same age (those born between 1975 and 1984). This is not the case in Germany, for example, which serves as a benchmark in the study.

The study shows overall lower rates for employment, emancipation, home ownership, fertility and potential wealth. A gap that has a particularly negative impact on people without higher education, who in a worse position in most indicators. What this means in concrete terms for young people in their daily lives is impressively portrayed in the documentary film accompanying the study, which gives young protagonists from Spain, Italy and Portugal a chance to speak.

Lower employment rate leads to more dissatisfaction with democracy

In Spain, employment data indicate that socioeconomic disparities are widening with the current economic crisis: Employment is declining more among the post-crisis generation without a college education than it did during the 2008-2014 recession. This is a breeding ground for right-wing and left-wing populist parties.

In Italy, the decay of institutions had been underway for decades - the crisis of 2008 to 2012 hit a party system that had already collapsed in the early 1990s. This period saw the emergence of new movements, some of them populist, which today have become capable of gaining a majority and are shaking democracy and the rule of law from both the left and the right.

In Portugal, meanwhile, the "Chega" ("Enough") party is taking advantage of the existing breeding ground for populism. Pessimistic perceptions of career opportunities and financial security are leading to greater dissatisfaction with democracy and a desire for greater redistribution of wealth in the Southern European countries examined.

Film Trailer

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Alienation between politics and the population provides a gateway for populist ideas in all the countries studied

However, the political attitudes and satisfaction with democracy of the post-crisis generation differ considerably in the various countries of Southern Europe. In the case of Spain, for example, this leads to a questioning of the basic constitutional consensus for the first time since Franco's dictatorship. The study cites the interaction between the widening gap between the generations and the respective country-specific context as an explanation for the differences. Common to all countries, however, is the gradual deterioration of the relationship between politics and the sovereign. Populist parties that provide simple explanations for social, economic and political challenges are taking advantage out of this, and everywhere in Europe, they pose a threat to pluralistic, liberal democracy, which must place itself at the service of future generations.

Introduce reforms or exacerbate divisions. Promote equal opportunities!

The current crisis is changing the socioeconomic landscape across Europe and hitting disadvantaged groups particularly hard - especially young people. To counteract the divisive tendencies in society, reform projects must be implemented urgently in four key areas:

1.) A welfare state geared to equal opportunities and reforms in the education sector which must prepare young people much better for the challenges of working life.

2.) A labor market that does not protect insiders first, but allows outsiders better access to the labor market. A reduction in fixed-term employment contracts and continuous training opportunities are also essential for a better employment rate.

3.) Enable family formation! A better work-life balance and early childhood education programs are just as important as flexible working hours and parental leave arrangements.

4.) The pension systems urgently need far-reaching reforms; this includes a sustainability factor and personal pension fund shares in the pension system (fund share in the pay-as-you-go system).

Today and tomorrow, the Social Summit in Porto, Portugal, will discuss how the EU can become fairer, more inclusive and equal in opportunities by 2030. With youth unemployment rates at around 37 percent in Spain, 33 percent in Italy and 23 percent in Portugal, a common EU approach to mitigating the social impact of the coronavirus pandemic on young people is among the highest priorities. In 2017 in Gothenburg, the basic principles for strengthening the social dimension in the EU for greater social justice, employment, non-discrimination, social exchange and educational opportunities were first set up. A forward-looking policy must open up prospects and use incentives to awaken young people's sense of responsibility and potential - "without leaving anyone behind," as the current Portuguese Council Presidency has set out to do.

The full study for download