Opinion: Who’s Afraid of the Economic Crisis?

In case you weren’t aware, there is a serious crisis in Europe. Or rather, serious crises that started with the subprime crisis in the United States in 2007.
There is a lot to be outraged at in Europe at the moment, between the real estate crisis, the banking and financial crisis, the economic crisis, the euro crisis, and the political crisis that proves the difficulty and inability of European politicians to govern the Union… But what about the young generation who has to enter the labor market in the current European malaise?

It started with Greece, then Portugal, Ireland, Spain… All are victims of the virulent consequences of the subprime mortgage crisis. Toute l’Europe, the francophone web portal on European affairs deplores the hiring freeze in France and Italy, redundancy and job cuts in Germany and Ireland, and reduction of social expenditures in Portugal.

Spain saw 50,000 of its inhabitants leave the country between January and September of last year. The National Institute of Statistics predicts the trend will rise up to 500,000 within the next ten years. Eurostat shows terrible numbers for unemployment: 23 millions of unemployed for every age group, all over the European Union. Amongst the euro zone, the unemployment rate rose to 10% for the year 2011, and this was the average result; Greece shows an unemployment rate of 18% and Spain, 23%! In comparison, Australia’s unemployment rate is 5%. What is our future, if 25% of the youth under twenty-five are unemployed all over the European Union?

Danai Dragonear is a Greek journalist, chief editor of Ozon. She discussed in Elle magazine the consequences of our politicians’ govern-ability, clear in her pessimism about Europeans’ future. She somberly concluded quoting the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, “we are the children of catastrophe.”

The economic and individual malaise is even more pronounced this year. Standard and Poor’s downgraded France and Austria, Italy and Spain, while Portugal is now ‘junk’, in financial language. If we stay optimistic, we can look at Australia and Canada who lost their triple A rating in 1986, but managed to get it back about fifteen years later. There is a lot of questions to ask about the direction Europe’s young generation will take, with their hopes and dreams of what their career will be like.

Witness’ of the crisis are in the protests around Europe, propelled by a little pamphlet, Indignez-vous! (Time for Outrage!). ‘The motive for resistance, is indignation’, declares Stephan Hessel, the ninety-three years-old author. This little pamphlet, about thirty pages, was published a year ago, and quickly translated around the world. It inspired demonstrations in Spain (led by the Indignados), Portugal, France (les Indignés), and spread to 146 cities in the United States with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

So what do we have to outrage ourselves for, in this new chapter of the 21st century?

Young adults are entering the labor market without knowing what is coming ahead, nor how to plan their future. Is there a strategy to get through the crisis without a scratch? Researching the topic of fears and hopes in this new generation who have to make a life and living in Europe at the moment, I was surprised by the optimism that remained. I wanted to share those views as a reminder that some believe in the positive aspects of the European crisis, or at least, intend to adapt to consequences forced on them.

Sarah R is a student at HEC an elitist French school. Her thoughts of the crisis in 2012 are rather positive. “Crises are cyclic. It is not the first one, it will pick up again’, she believes. If some areas are showing job cuts and hiring freeze, some others are still promising. “I want to be a consultant. It is compromised? No. The banking sector definitely is, but not the consulting one”, she said.

There is still hope, then, that 2012 will resolve in an encouraging way, for a small portion of young people. Sarah specifies that it would be inconsiderate for many to be ‘optimistic’ about today’s crisis, so she calls it a ‘moderate optimism, but definitely not pessimism’.

The young generation who will soon enter the professional world can be insightful and not afraid to face a head-on confrontation with the crisis. Celine Bareil is a marketing student at the ETEA Loyola Universidad de Cordoba, Spain. She explains her apprehension on the year. “2012 is the moment where European firms are going to feel the difficulties met last year: the decrease of consumerism associated to the investments.”

However, the twenty-three year old student still believes there opportunities to seize. “There are a lot of internship offers, although the bridge from interning to actually working will not be easy,” Sarah says. “We need to look on the bright sides. The crisis makes us understand that we are vulnerable. It prevents us from being satisfied with a routine for it can stop very suddenly.”

She even suggests new ideas to get around the current economic times, such as starting activities aside work, and more training to cope with the crisis even if it means being over-qualified. “This is the advantage of having lived a crisis, it allows us to beware and to anticipate”, she concludes, reminiscing the 1929 crisis that Europe lives in fear of experiencing again.

When countries of the European Union are discussing the aftermath of the crisis, or rather solutions to control the monster, some are not the least afraid of its outcomes. Out of naivety? Or rather, out of concrete realism on the current situation?

Victor de Bouillé decided to start his own business a year ago, putting in place software for the catering sector. I asked whether his project is to counterbalance the crisis or out of choice. “In my case, it is simple. If my project fails, I am still in position of strength over the labor market.” He goes on reassured to see that he does not have to accept every job offer that passes by. Indeed, Victor favors freedom in the career he is preparing. “It is better than working for a firm where employees are replaceable links in the chain”, he claims.

It is comforting to see that, if clearly not a large portion of Europeans’ opinions, at least some are not the least afraid of what is coming ahead, and still plan on being happy rather than signing for the first job offer.  “I want to favor being able to bring the human and work values, rather than repetitively doing the same thing without consideration or responsibility”, Victor says. There is hope that some Europeans still have a choice, then.

To deal with the euro crisis, some others prefer to leave right away and start their career away from home, away from Europe. In 2000, France developed VIE, a system that promotes the international development of French enterprises. VIE allows a young adult under twenty-eight to work abroad for a French firm for a period of six to twenty-four months. The economic and finances ministry counts between 2 and 3,000 people each year, who go abroad to work for 28,000 firms, in about 140 countries.

2012 promises to be austere as the European economic plans recently put in place, aiming at reducing government’s debts. But it seems that there is still a group of young adults who are about to enter the labor market not the least afraid to confront the crisis. Is that a naïve attitude? Students who are told every day since the beginning of their studies that things are more difficult then at the end of the 1980’s, and are not afraid to prove everyone wrong. Rather then naive, it is a perceptive and mature approach to their new life projects. As Stephan Hessel suggested, “take over, outrage yourself.” Let’s protect our right and our creativity, whatever the world that is left for us.

Pauline Guillonneau