During the European Council of July 2019, an historical agreement was reached among members states, due to the urgency of facing economic consequences of the Covid-19’s pandemic. The new instrument, called Next Generation EU, is a 750€ billion stimulus package that is going to be included in the Multiannual Financial Framework for the period 2021-2027. The main goal of this instrument is to improve the situation for the Europeans of tomorrow and to help them to face future’s challenges. That is why the European Commission has decided to name it Next Generation EU. This message is significant if we think about young people’s current situation: the economic crisis and the lack of political participation are compromising our hopes for the future.
Since the Next Generation EU is future oriented, there are two main fields where the members states must focus their efforts: digitalization and sustainability. New technologies are reshaping international economy and, moreover, they are a theme of confrontation between China and the United States. Europe must play a role. On the other hand, there is the environmental issue where youth movements, such as Fridays for Future, were crucial to raise political attention on this theme. The Next Generation EU aims to improve Europe’s situation on both points.
Digitalization is becoming more and more relevant, thanks to huge developments that new technologies have seen during the last decades. A report published by the World Economic Forum in 2016 stated that more than half of young kids that are starting primary school, will make a work that does not exist yet. A crucial challenge for Europe is to provide an educational system and a work environment that promote new technologies and the ability of using them. The European Union has approved the Digital Europe Programme: it is an investment plan of €7.5 billion with the goal of boost digital transformation of our economy. The main target of the programme are supercomputing, artificial intelligence, cyber security, and digital skills. Especially this last area is important to reduce the gap between high qualified workers and low qualified workers. This gap also introduces a salary gap that causes the raise of income inequality. It is a crucial challenge if we want to build a fair digital Europe, with none left behind.
Alongside with digitalization, another pillar of the Multiannual Financial Framework is environmental sustainability. As we mentioned, this is a theme at the core of youth political agenda. Approximately 30% of EU budget will be used to fight climate change, but our environment could benefit also from indirect investment that will reward enterprises and member states that will reduce their impact. The Next Generation EU will add resources to achieve this goal. An important part of the NGEU, in fact, is the Recovery and Resilience Facility, a stimulus package of €672.5 billion, divided between grants and loans. To get these resources, member states have to present a plan of investment where at least 37% of it is designed to improve their sustainability. The French President Macron, in a long interview with Le Grand Continent, underlined the importance of this ambition, but also the “danger” that could represent. Today, a lot of people’s economic activities are no longer in line with the goal of a greener world. The European Union, alongside with member states, must encourage ecological transition without augment unemployment or poverty. That is why, as a part of the Next Generation EU, has been created the Just Transition Fund (JTF), a €10 billion fund that will help economic activities to transform themselves.
The Next Generation EU represents an important moment for future generations and European integration process. One year ago, when the pandemic entered our lives and every member state minded their own business, we feared that the EU could not win this war. One year later, the situation has completely changed, and a lot of actions were taken to contrast the biggest economic crisis since World War II. The future is not riskless because all the resources that we mentioned are basically new debt that one day will have to be repaid and that is why the accent on future generations is crucial if we do not want to waste these funds. At the beginning of the crisis, Mario Draghi, former president of the ECB and now Prime Minister of Italy, underlined a fundamental distinction: good debt and bad debt. The first one does not represent a problem because it will generate growth that leave a better Europe. Deciding to invest in sustainability and digitalization is going in the direction that Draghi pointed out and it is the only way to guarantee a future of wellbeing for the European Next Generation.
This post has been written in collaboration with the Group of the European Youth for Change - GEYC, a Romanian youth organization founded in 2010 and active at the European level. GEYC is the initiator and coordinating organization of PRISMA European Network, a European-wide coalition aimed to raise the quality of youth projects through digital youth work. GEYC Community is one of the biggest youth communities in Europe.