Debate: Education, employment and entrepreneurship for Europe’s young people

Debate: Education, employment and entrepreneurship for Europe’s young people


Welcome to Euractive’s Debate regarding young people and Europe. When we discuss about young people in Greece, 3 words are coming to our mind: 1) unemployment, 2) education and 3) entrepreneurship. We are going to discuss these 3 words today, here with Ms. Eva Kaili, Ms. Maria Spyraki and Mr. Takis Hadjigeorgiou, who are asked to answer 4 questions by young Greeks, as we cannot discuss about young people, without the young people themselves How do you judge the performance of the Greek and Cypriot universities in relation to the European average? Ms Kaili? I think the answer to this question could be that, unfortunately, the progress is negative, even though I consider our universities to be excellent. Surely they could be improved because, something that affects the education in Greece is also that the lessons are very often interrupted for a long period of time, due to sit-ins, or extra-parliamentary reactions and protests. Nevertheless, I believe we have excellent professors. Essentially, in Greece, we have distinguished scientists who occasionally are invited by foreign universities as visiting professors and we should not also underestimate that in Greece, high quality education is offered gratis by the state. So I think the answer to this question is that there are some issues that need improvement but in general, education in Greece meets the highest standards. Mrs Spyraki, what is your opinion? I believe that occasionally we discredit ourselves with the ugly image that public buildings give but also with the bad impression of the daily routine in Greek universities. I think it is urgent for the Greek universities to open out to the international academic community by offering graduate and postgraduate courses and summer schools in English, as most institutions do in the world- personally, since I was elected Member of the European Parliament, I take every year summer courses at the College of Europe-and the enactment of private universities which will cover new areas of expertise and promote competition Greece has all the potential it needs. It has the brains. It has highly educated people. All it needs is to show to the broader scholar community that it can constitute an excellent destination for higher education. Cyprus has become one successfully. Cyprus has accomplished this by attracting students from mainland Greece. Bulgaria also offers courses implemented by foreign institutions. Why not Greece as well? There is no excuse to lose this opportunity. Mr. Hadjigeorgiou? To begin with, I agree with my colleagues. I would like to add that we are the best in theoretic analysis. We lack though collective motivation regarding interconnection and action between the citizens and the state, the political parties and the civil society. This is the way to step forward. I am in the position to know firsthand that state universities in Cyprus are heading towards a more sophisticated status as well as the state university of Nicosia and the C.U.T. in Limmasol without underestimating the private universities. At the same time I believe it is crucial to offer more funding for the promotion of novelty, substantial funding. In Cyprus we are left behind in this. Through appropriate funding we could compete in research with other countries like Germany or U.S.A. I would like to say to a student in Cyprus or Greece that he/she can be as competitive as any other student of the same age in Germany or U.S.A. Internationally we are at the same academic level. In Greece, the digital deficit remains high, as we lack infrastructure but also digital skills regarding workforce. How could Greece become more competitive if there are no changes in this area? I think we should reconsider, we are ranked 26th out of 28, U.K included, 99% of the Greek households have access to the internet but just above 60% actual connection and there is great insecurity regarding electronic transactions and state transactions. We must urgently put into action all the available tools so as to establish a relationship based on trust between citizens and state so as to improve administration. At the same time I need to stress a fact regarding you young people. Did you know that Greek companies ask for digital experts and they cannot find any? The worst aspect of the brain drain is the loss of young people who are specialized in digital technology, economy, the so-called “IT monkeys”. We lose them and we need them. It is absolutely urgent for the graduates of all the universities and technical institutions to be offered further training on this area and there are funding for this. There is funding provided from the NSRF, from the community budget, from the FCE, the Juncker plan, which can improve a lot the infrastructures regarding education and modernization of the networks so as to give the opportunity and the possibility for Greece to become a digital centre. We are not “digitally illiterate”. We are the point between what actually happens in the digital economy and what we would like to accomplish and we lose a great percentage of scientists who could help us. Therefore, we need more, we need you, and we need you properly trained. Mr Hadjigeorgiou, would you like to tell us about the situation in Cyprus? I think we have reached a good level. I believe we should stop spending too much time on Facebook and this counts for many of us who are involved with digital technology. I would like to say to the young people that their right to ask questions, they should not abolish it, to their right and obligation to answer I carry part of the responsibility to everyone and the answers cannot be given only by the politicians who one way or another do not trust us. When I listen to interviews, mine included, I get angry, because we have all the answers but young people are still unemployed. Therefore I ask from the whole society not to follow only the direction of questions but also to search towards the direction of answers. Young people should organize in entities, in and out of political parties, and by working with political authorities or without, to compose their own proposals. Before coming here, I asked some young people: “What would you like to listen from me?” and their answer? I am not sure whether those I asked were in position to give me a concrete idea of what they would like to hear. We are all on the side of questions but when we find ourselves in front of the camera, do we have any answers? Solutions are not easy. As I have already mentioned, more funding should be given to development and especially to the one of novelty. We should encourage young people not only in universities but also out of them to generate new ideas. We should not expect only the Americans and the Germans to do so. We are also capable but the state should support this potential along with the private sector so as to have the appropriate conditions for the young man of Greece and Cyprus not to feel inferior from any other European or American one. Ms Kaili, what’s your opinion? What do you think is missing? Regarding digital skills, we are still not fully developed in South Eastern Europe. There was a program in Europe, supported by the European Central Bank about 10 million Euros, for a digital school so as students acquire digital skills, that is coding, new programming languages, for the purpose to exploit the opportunities offered through Internet. This of course is the limited program and it is not enough, especially for the countries of S.E. Europe. There are of course more programs. Another useful program is the “Wi-Fi for Europe” (“WiFi4EU”), which promotes the access to the Internet and it is currently examined. According to this, there will be access points scattered all over the country where Internet access will be for free. mostly in remote areas, A third program implemented by I.N.E.A. offers coding lessons mostly to young women, because there are 1 in 20 young women who master digital skills and need to learn programming languages, such as python. These are initiatives already runnining and they also start in Greece. On our own initiative we are pushing for the programs to start in 2017 at various parts of Greece, but definitely, these programs are not enough. There are, of course, various programs for young people but digital skills do not apply only to the young age but are essential to the older people as well, because they also need access to a lot of services and facilities. We have still a long way ahead of us. There are 3-4 initiatives which need further support. An obvious obstacle is the fact that the state is asked to continue and support initiatives which have started here as pilot projects and eventually fails to do so, because we are in a constant crisis the last 10 years. Since 2012, Greece is one of the 28 countries of the E.U. which has adopted minimum wage for the young people though there is not enough evidence which proves that it increases the possibilities to find a job At the European youth forum we believe that the minimum salary in relation to age is a kind of discrimination and should be abolished. What is your position? Mr Hadjigeorgiou, we know that this is not valid in Cyprus and would you like to explain to us what was your country’s reaction in order to fight crisis? Firstly, as I have already explained it is not simple to confront economic crisis. It takes short and stable steps and when you are ready to jump, be cautious enough not to find yourself over the cliff. Secondly, what I have to say, even though it is not connected directly with our discussion, but I feel the need to express it, is the fact that all these years we have committed ourselves so every student and today we try to take it away because young people have lost contact with the surroundings, the world, the window and the door. If parents ask their child: “Is it raining where you are? Have a look out of the window.” the answer is: “Hold on, I will check on Google.” Now regarding minimum salary there isn’t such a thing in Cyprus. I am not convinced that this is correct. It should be a minimum salary, as long as it is not the lowest possible. It should be within the limits of dignity. What is crucial is the need for development so as to have new job positions either in the public or in the private sector and we are in a phase where everyone considers “statehood” equal to the state, I totally disagree with such an idea, and that is why I have replaced the word “state” with the word “commonwealth”. Commonwealth is common to everyone, whereas the state is related to a few. Therefore commonwealth is obliged to create job positions and I do not mean the kind of positions where someone just sits and expects to get paid because there are economists who think so, but citizens to be employed in the desired area, where they are needed and believe that their qualifications should be applied. Regarding the much-discussed mobility, I personally loathe it because I come from a village where few decades ago almost half of it was neglected due to migration to South Africa and Australia. This is not mobility, is it? It is tough migration. Nowadays, when a young person decides to leave Greece or Cyprus in order to find a job for 800 Euros in Germany or Belgium, it is only migration. When someone decides to move to another country, they should do it voluntarily, either because they found a position that meets their talents or they get paid a lot better than any other place in EU. Would you like to tell us which is the position of your political party regarding the issue of minimum salary in Greece? I do not think we share the same attitude. We are in a group which is considered “confederal”. This implies that every political party has its own positions. The position of my party is against minimum salary as I have already explained. We do not agree for a minimum salary suggesting the lowest possible but new job positions which will meet the will and the talents of everyone. Ms. Kaili, what do you think about Greece? Tell us your opinion. Allow me to mention that not only the minimum salary but also the lack of payment in order to acquire work experience, the so called internships, are both huge problems for the young people. In Greece alone we have reached 50% of youth unemployment, therefore minimum salary is now desirable, as we are facing a 50% unemployment There is some action taken from Europe and I repeat that unfortunately these are problems which in Greece are more severe but in the rest of Europe, they have started to control. To begin with, there are programs which obliges, young people, 4 months after the completion of studies a well known EU funded program, the “Youth Guarantee”, to be hired, subsidised by the EU, so as to acquire paid work experience, to be able to continue and get a salary raise soon enough. It is a successful program because we have 1.5 million less unemployed in Europe the last 5 years. There are now subsidies for the full-time employment of young people; for Greece especially, about 100 million Euros are provided. The problem is that these programs are not implemented properly due to bureaucracy we cannot absorb funding, something very common in Greece. There is also a third program regarding subsidies for hiring older graduates up to 35 years of age. So there is action taken and we should take advantage of it but unfortunately, the unsolved problem is not the minimum salary, but the extensive unemployment in our country. Ms Spyraki, what is your position about the minimum salary? I will explain my position; it is not at all enough what we have here. Neither the Youth Guarantee, already mentioned by Ms Kaili, despite the fact that it will increase up to 3 billion the budget of the current community support framework, nor Erasmus+ which in reality gives the opportunity for the experience exchange, not only among students but also for young entrepreneurs, nor other initiatives such as the ticket which allows anyone to travel through Europe and which will be the new initiative for our youth to become European. Young Greeks could become European when they are given work opportunities and such opportunities are shaped through a new form of economy which we should support in every possible way. Allow me to mention 2 numbers: Today were announced the advertising profits of major companies. Google gets 72.6 billion from advertising and Facebook gets 33.76 billion Euros. We are talking about billions, money which could go to our small digital companies. Greek start-up companies in the last years are the only who used the program to integrate cutting-edge technologies, reaching a great percentage, more than 18%. This practically suggests that we have kids with brains, with qualifications and potential, and the only thing missing is to start new enterprises. To do so, a friendly environment is needed, without bureaucracy, obstacles and access to lending. We have none of those 3 and we do not, because throughout this period we behaved cowardly. We were ready to give a coupon to some or an allowance to others but to nobody a chance. The high insurance fees and the heavy taxation inhibit profit making and the increase of employment especially for the start-ups and small businesses. Wouldn’t it be a relief for the Greek companies to reduce employer’s costs with ultimate result the increase of business’ profits and at the same time the decrease of unemployment or even the increase of net salaries for the employees? I suppose this was accidental. It worked, but not accidentally and it worked because, as you remember, our government decreased the employers’ taxes because you also remember that from the beginning we are against the increase of employers’ taxation as we believe there is only one way, regarding the motivation of companies and that is covering part of the taxes through programs or the budget. But reality in Greece is as follows: there is a context from which any element of financial activity is eliminated. There is a context of which almost 70% of the profits from small and medium scale businesses must go to taxes and fees If this situation does not change and at the same time businesses would be inhibited from direct access to lending, nobody will hire anyone and no start-up will be able to start. I will refer to one number only: up to now, the Juncker plan has implemented through Europe 177 billion Euros. The last “State of Play on the 9th of March. For Greece, 1.1 billion Euros were assigned of which only the half more or less goes to Fraport and to other major companies and the rest were supposed to be given to small and medium ones. Show me which small and medium-sized companies got any money through the banks according to Juncker plan, in order to create new job positions. So the problem has a name: it is the uncertainty, the inability to apply structural changes and above all is the hostile attitude towards entrepreneurship. these are the things we need to change Mr Hadjigeorgiou, is the situation the same in Cyprus? First of all, I think the question has 2 aspects. I agree with the one and I disagree with the other. Of course I agree with the decrease of employers’ taxes, so as not to stand against entrepreneurship. If we support the development of a small/medium-sized company we cannot exhaust them by asking disproportionate insurance fees which, as far as I know, in Greece they are very high. Regarding the proposal about a reduction of the labor cost, this means that there should be a salary reduction too in order to achieve it, and I am totally against that. We have earlier mentioned our opinions about the minimum salary. In Cyprus, things are slightly different, but this “slightly” is not unimportant at all. The insurance fees are in a much lower level. The employers in Cyprus are discussing about the reduction of the labor cost, and of course the Left-Wing is supposed to be opposed to it. The employees should be paid in an equal level to the performance of their work, not being just a “tool” in employer’s hands. I think that we are in a better situation in Cyprus, at least regarding the numbers. I hope and I wish that also the people will have a prosperous living in the near future, because we have a high percentage of youth unemployment, approx. 26% and approx. 12% in other age groups, in women a bit more than 12%. However, I think we have reached the bottom, I do not think there can be a recession, but I expect that also a new governance in Cyprus -I mention this because in the upcoming February, Presidential Elections will be held there- It may bring a new way to further prosperity of Cyprus. Ms Kaili, what should be done in order to prevent the “drowning” of the entrepreneurship in Greece? I think this is the key-question in order to resolve the crisis permanently in the south of Europe. What is important to understand is that giving incentives to someone to start an enterprise in the private sector has to do with, in principle, a different, healthy mindset, where entrepreneurship is something we are friendly to, and we understand that only in this way there can be an actual development. Plus the scale-up, the growing of an enterprise, because not all start-ups are successful. What is important is to support them also in the next step, where they will grow and they will be able to hire more people, so this can create this mobility which will be able to be withstood by this business. That is why there are, unfortunately, national strategies. The problem is that Europe cannot affect that because Greece is excluded from the instructions to this direction. It is a basic ideological problem that this government has. It is its philosophy against the private sector. As Mrs. Spyraki mentioned, my colleague, because we work together on the Juncker plan, said the only companies that were helped to receive money from the Juncker plan were German, French, or Italian. The ones that helped this government to stay in power a little more, these are the ones that were comforted. Greek small and medium-sized enterprises were not helped. Complaints by high-ranking officials in Europe that it was made impossible. Our country is the one that closes the doors. We are fighting to receive funding from the south and the government does not help. It does not allow banks neither to advertise it, nor to support small and medium-sized businesses with tools that it can build. In Italy, 200,000 SMES and billions of money were sent to deal with this problem. So let me ask one last question. Based on what we have heard from you and the people who spoke to us, I want to ask: do you think we are talking about a lost generation of Europe? And if so, what can be done to reverse this? In no case is the generation lost, in no case it surrenders. We do not surrender because there are tools available Political will and a divorce from nonsense and populism are what is required. We need rapid structural changes that will allow the Greek new generation to show its potential in the European and global competition. Why young people often found companies in Estonia but work in Greece from home instead? Why so often a website that costs a lot here in Belgium is created by Greeks with very good ideas? Why so often Greek dentists are in demand in the United Kingdom even after the launch of BREXIT? What do all these mean? They mean that we do have the talents, we do have the will, we do have the knowledge to cope. Say “No” to the idea of “lost generation”, “Yes” to a very aggressive reform movement, which will make Greece attractive, in order to show what we can do and give our children what they deserve. Ms Kaili, What do you think should be done to reverse the damage that has been done? I will also remain optimistic and say that if we talk about damage, we talk about a financial damage in our own country which unfortunately slows down the pace of the rest of Europe. On the other hand, let us not forget that we have conquered Europe to be a paradise all over the world for someone to live and work. It is a region where we have struggled against discrimination. So, a young person has opportunities that they did not have before, a woman has opportunities she did not have before, they have the opportunity to move to another country, to gain work experience, and whatever else they want in any country that may interest them or their profession may be in demand and, of course, the important thing is to manage in Greece to keep our young people there, because we have a huge graduate outgoing, the “healthy” human resources that could reverse this situation in our own country. To keep them and also to convince the ones who have gone to come back, because unfortunately there are too many ones that have gone abroad. I think that a return strategy needs to be done, as you have rightly stated. Mr Hadjigeorgiou, one last comment? I do not like the phrase “lost generation”. But it is a generation with less prosperity than the previous one, which is something that happens for the first time since a few decades. We have had a constant increase in citizens’ living standards and sometime we saw a stepback The phrase “lost generation”, however, sends not only a message of pessimism, but it also undermines the will of the people you are referring to. I will say one last word: the success key for countries with serious economic problems is the Opposition parties. To know to what extent it should support the government, not because it embraces its ideas. and I am not referring to the left-wing or the right-wing government; I am referring to any government. The Opposition should be able to support, because the current situation demands it. And when it gets the power, let it do something different, but still, the other opposition must subserve. If it does not help in a severe need, then we are done. Thank you all very much for your time. I am Aria Koutra, on behalf of EurActiv.

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