The 2017 European Youth Week is underway as at EU level the youth unemployment rate (21.1%) is more than twice as high as the overall unemployment rate (9.8%). And I cannot help remembering Diogenes' famous quote that "the foundation of every state is its youth", even though I would be tempted to replace the word "state" by "society".
Across Europe and throughout this week, events are taking place in the framework of the European Youth Week; therefore it is the time to ask ourselves a legitimate question: what is the EU doing for our youth, for the foundation of our European society?
And the answer is: quite a lot actually! Not only through its Youth Employment Initiative and its €6.4 billion for the current financial period, but also via Regional Policy. Generally speaking, the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) supports what I would call employment friendly-growth based on territorial strategies; this allows for supporting, among others, young entrepreneurs through funding for self-employment, microenterprises and generally speaking business creation, and when I say "support", I mean over €10 billion for the 2014-2020 period.
But the ERDF also invests in infrastructures to make our youth better equipped for the future; indeed, almost €3 billion are available for school infrastructure across Europe.
Such investments improve access to high-quality education which is indeed "the foundation of our society". And believe me, it is about high quality! A big chunk of my work is to travel across Europe to see for myself what is being done with regional policy funds, and you wouldn't believe the number of amazing projects I have visited, from primary school to university and vocational training. And if you speak to those on the spot, you hear that without such funding, they would not have been able to provide such educational asset.
From projects to prevent school dropout in Denmark, to a centre for school and extracurricular activities in Slovenia training students from many Member States to set up their own micro-enterprises, the list of projects we fund for our youth seems endless.
Finally, how not to mention the European Solidarity Corps launched at the initiative of the European Commission President Jean-Paul Juncker? As it offers young Europeans aged 18 to 30 the possibility to work on Interreg projects (EU funded projects involving regions from more than one country), the European Solidarity Corps offers our youth the chance to work abroad, learn new skills, use other languages. And this in itself can help them kick-start their professional career.
To conclude, happy youth week to all of you, wherever you live in the EU, who are our future. Europe is by your side; rest assured that we will keep supporting you!