Glenis Willmott – 2012 Speech to Labour Party Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Glenis Willmott, the Leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party, to the Labour Party conference on 1st October 2012.

Conference, I want to start by telling you about Jack and Ollie.

Two young people I met on a recent visit in my constituency.

Two skilled and hardworking young men who left school and started what they hoped would be long careers in the carpentry and glazing trades, only to be made redundant when the recession hit.

They told me of their experiences of being young and unemployed in Britain:

– The feeling of worthlessness

– The constant rejection

– The closed doors

– The smashed confidence

Conference, it is only thanks to Leicester’s Labour Council – working together with a local training provider and rail company – that Jack and Ollie have managed to escape this cycle and have now secured an apprenticeship.

Their futures now look so much brighter.

They are the lucky ones.

Conference, across our continent, young people are being left behind as never before.

One in two young Greeks and Spaniards are jobless.

One in three young Italians, Portuguese and Bulgarians.

And here in Britain, youth unemployment has reached over one million.

Shocking isn’t it?

But this is about more than just numbers.

It is about the blighted lives of the young people who unlike Jack and Ollie, and through no fault of their own, are fast becoming Europe’s ‘Lost Generation’.

They are a generation paying the price for the recklessness of the global financial elites and the failed policies of their governments.

Conference, without urgent action, the scars these young people bear will only deepen.

Experience tells us that their economic and social development will be severely stunted.

They will face decades of reduced employment and lower earnings.

That’s why Labour MEPs are putting our nation’s – and our continent’s – youth at the very top of the agenda in Brussels.

Indeed, today we call on the European Union to bring forward plans to fund a Youth Jobs Guarantee.

It will allow EU countries to ensure that every young person in long term unemployment is offered a job, further education or work-focused training.

The fund would be fully flexible – to allow countries like the UK to develop a programme specific to our own needs.

It can be paid for initially by using 10 billion euros in unused European Social Funding.

And if it’s a success we can secure long term funding through reprioritising the EU’s Budget.

Your Labour MEPs will push for specific proposals to be made by the end of this year.

We will also convene a conference here in the UK this December to bring together young people, activists and social democratic politicians from across Europe to discuss further measures to help and support the jobless young.

Because there is another way.

All it takes is political will.

And because youth unemployment matters.

It matters to the individuals whose lives and prospects are blighted.

It matters to the thousands of parents up and down the country who fear for their children’s future.

It matters to the European governments currently picking up the 2 billion euros it costs for youth unemployment each and every week.

And it matters to the future of our continent.

You know, so many column inches have been devoted to the debate over the future of our continent, and in particular the fate of the EU itself.

And just as there are those who believe that jobless youth are an unavoidable economic casualty of the global economic downturn.

So too are there those who believe the EU is now an unavoidable political casualty.

They say that the ineffective, indecisive and often incompetent EU response to recent challenges is evidence that the Union it is not fit for purpose.

But just as with youth unemployment, it all boils down to political choice.

Let me make this crystal clear.

The Europe we see today is the ‘CaMerKozy’ Europe.

The child of the right wing dogmatists that dominate national governments across our continent.

It is their Europe of austerity.

Their Europe of unemployment.

Their Europe of political stagnation.

Because Conference, the European Union is not a fixed entity.

Europe is what we – its member countries – make of it.

It was created to serve our best interests.

And it can still do so.

But there are political choices.

The Europe we in Labour choose is very different to the one we see today.

The Europe we choose is one of prosperity.

Where a strong economy provides quality jobs.

The Europe we choose is one of fairness.

Where rewards are earned and the vulnerable are protected.

The Europe we choose is one of opportunity.

Where young people can enjoy the dignity of a fulfilling working life.

This is the Europe your MEPs are fighting for every day in the European Parliament.

This is the Europe that social democrats across the EU are calling out for.

We know that the Europe of today must change if it is to become the Europe of tomorrow.

So we are battling to reform the European Budget – to cut any wasteful spending and focus it instead on supporting an innovative economy and creating decent jobs.

We are campaigning to ensure millions in EU regional funds get to the British businesses and communities who need it as part of a strategic EU jobs and growth agenda.

We are putting in place EU-wide laws to end once and for all the casino-capitalism that has wrought such economic misery.

Conference, we all joined this great Party because we believed that politics makes a difference.

This is as true today as it ever was – in Brussels just as it is at home.

Europe doesn’t have to be a bastion of austerity and unemployment.

We can make a difference.

We can change Europe.

Let’s work for our Europe of tomorrow.

And let’s secure a better future for the next generation.