Tuesday, 13 December 2011

President of the Employers' Group of the EESC: "If I were 20 today, I wouldn’t look for a job, I would go to the streets and block them"

"Europe is my passion, Europe is my engagement."
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) is a consultative body of the European Union. It represents economic and social interests in Europe and it is divided in three groups: employers, workers and various interests group (such as NGOs or professionals).

Henri Malosse has been the President of the Employers' Group since 2009. In a very expressive interview for European Stagiaires Journal on the current situation of young people and juvenile unemployment, he also talked about  what employers look for, and why he thinks the Commission is sleeping and why he would rather leave Europe if he was 20 today.

Looking at your career path we can see that you have dedicated most of your life to promoting entrepreneurship in Europe. Why did you decide totake this route?

Everything is rather related to Europe: Europe is my passion, Europe is my engagement. I don’t think we can make a career in Europe. When I am working, for me it is more of being an active and engaged European. I am very proud to represent employers but my main goal is to work for European integration,of which I believe in fully. When I was 13 or 14 years old, I started my engagement with French-German reconciliation. And when I was 20, the iron curtain was closed and traveling was very complicated. For me, it was a bit easier because I could obtain a visa, I took my car and went to Poland and Czechoslovakia. But for my friends I met there, it was not easy to visit Western Europe. Today, I see Europe’s achievements – no visas, no borders - well, not for all of us, look at the Ukraine. Therefore I am fighting for a unified Europe with no borders. And of course, I gained support from employers and from enterprises to unify Europe.

However the situation is still pretty difficult. Today, young people especially are struggling to find employment. Why do you think the problem seems to be even more visible than ever before?

I think that in the past, society was much younger. Today, we are an older society where people don’t have trust in young people. I was told by someone that I am too young to be a president of the EESC, and I am 57. Can you believe it? They believed it should be person above 60. Why not someone younger, an individual of 25 or 30 years of age? For my son, who is 25, it is difficult to be employed because people ask for experience. It is a vicious circle. When you are for instance in India or in South America, it is a value to be young. In Europe, it is a disadvantage.

Do you think internships or volunteering could be a solution and a way to gain experiences?

I don’t like employers who give non-paid jobs. I think stagiaires should be paid. Without money, it is not fair. Otherwise, it means that parents pay, which means that it is not equal – because some families can afford it, some families cannot. Therefore I think, it is not any compatible model for Europe.

So what do employers want and need today?

Unfortunately, today’s employers have difficulties placing their confidence in thefuture. As they are not confident, they think they will be secured by someone who has more experience. This is a general perspective  in Europe, what is ridiculous. Even though the economic climate is generally not bad, due to the inaction of the European institutions and mainly of the European Commission, the business climate is bad because entrepreneurs understand nothing. Look at Brussels – there is no clear message, no leadership. Where is Mr. Barroso? Yesterday I made a speech at our plenary and I said: “Give us Mr. Barroso back! Where is he? Get him back, because we cannot see him anywhere.” We need leadership and strength, but today we have no confidence. And combined with the aging population, this results in a lack of trust in the young generation. But this is completely wrong!

Where to find a solution?

I don’t see a solution in some of the technical matters. I think a solution should be more political. I very much support the European Union's effort to develop mobility. But this should not be possible just for students. It needs to reach all kinds of people. Even though Erasmus is a nice project, it covers only ten per cent of students which means only about one per cent of young Europeans, what is nothing. I think Erasmus is the only visible success of the EU of last 20 years. Some months ago I would say it was the euro, but today… Let’s see what’s going to happen with euro. But Erasmus has been accepted only just because Mr. Jacques Delores, president of the Commission, put his resignation on the table to save it. But today, Commissioners are… Last week in Paris, one Commissioner used these words, saying: we are like a sleeping cabinet. And it is like that! And I am sorry to say that but it is true of all commissioners.

What would you do if today, in circumstances of economic instability and insecurity, you were 20 again? How would you make yourself appealing to employers?

I think, if I were 20 today, I would not look for a job. I would go to the streets and I would block them. I would be a revolutionary. Because the situation today is not acceptable and I think one should not beg for a job.

But how would you feed yourself?

I would be tempted to go to some other place, to leave Europe: to go to a place where they value young generation, maybe to the US or to South America. I gave some advice to my son: to go to eastern Europe. Eastern Europe is still not as bad as it is here, in Western Europe. People are more open to youth. Because of the political changes there, transition 20 years ago, you can see younger people not only in politics but also being treated much better. This is my feeling, I may be wrong.

Recently you have announced your candidacy for the rotating presidency of the EESC. What would be your goals as a president? 

I have two answers to that. Firstly, I think in times of crisis we should work together: European member states, EU private companies and EU institutions, to reindustrialize Europe. We shouldn’t let all industry leave Europe. When we have negative commercial outraged balance, we lose jobs, we don’t produce anything. This support should be coming from a European level, especially to support innovation, education and reindustrialization. I would like that all committees would take an initiative in those three actions.
Secondly, I would like to support projects that build on the concept of a European identity, which is a crucial point. Today, because of my history, my travelling experiences and my knowledge of languages I see that the European identity is a way of being proud of something. I am French, I can be proud of that, but I can personally be proud of Europe because of what we have achieved in sixty years: peace, Schengen, the enlargement process, Europe is no longer divided. I would like to build on that, for example to make a private company be proud of being European by putting a European flag in front of their building. I also would like to extend this European identity to tourism. For example your country, Slovakia, is a wonderful country. But ask in France who knows anything about Slovakia, and they would probably think you are somewhere close to Siberia and you have some white bears over there and they wouldn’t know how beautiful your county is. So, we have to promote European tourism so that European citizens get to know Europe.

What about youth and its employment? What kind of priorities do you have in this matter?

One of my plans after being elected will be – after visiting Jean Monnet’s house discover our roots – to check all the priorities regarding employment of young people and to discuss our working programme with young people. You know, European citizens don’t trust the European institutions anymore. But they still believe in the European idea. Thus to build a project based on a European identity, EESC should be the place where all the hopes of citizens should be presented and we can assert pressure on the Commission, the Council or the Parliament to move and act.

Are those goals also a kind of a guideline for solution to the crisis?

I think the solution to the crisis is made up of two things. First, some concrete, common action from the EU, Member States and the private sector to boost the European economy, European industry, innovation, clusters, links between universities and companies, research and development. And those things should no longer be done at a national level. If we act together, we can do something, we can compete with America or China.
The second thing is to connect  citizens with what is the EU doing. Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Sarkozy want a new treaty. But if they asked the public their opinion, the answer would be no. People will think that Germany and France cannot decide for us. We have to make European citizens be proud of what is going on in Europe. And that is why I see a concrete project of building European identity as a way to save this continent.

And now for a bit of a visionary question. How do you see Europe in, let's say, 50 years?

I can tell you two scenarios: positive and negative. For the positive scenario I see the United States of Europe in twenty years. Maybe not based on the model of the US, maybe on themodel of Switzerland – a confederation of states. On the other hand, the worst one: I like cinema and some years ago some low-budget film made by Africans, I don’t remember from which country. It was a sci-fi about how the world would look in 2050. In Africa, they unified all the countries, they had common institutions, and Africa became very wealthy. Europe looked disastrous: it went back to nationalism, poverty, and different types of wars between countries. Europe was divided. And Europeans took boats, and traveled to Africa to find jobs. In Africa, you could see those rich people with good cars and an expensive lifestyle. White people were cleaning sides of streets. I wish to Africa all the success, but I don’t wish this for Europe.

By Lucia Mrázová