On Saturday I was at the Relaunching Europe event in Nottingham on Youth Unemployment, where I got to meet Hannes Swoboda, S&D Leader, and Glenis Willmott, leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party, who organised the event. It was an interesting conference, with debate jumping from local to national to European level, as well as debate on Labour as a party.
Youth unemployment is unfortunately a very live issue at the moment, and there were several deeply personal stories from people affected by unemployment, from the Oxford graduate unable to find a steady job 2 years after graduating (and with many friends in similar positions), to an unemployed Labour councillor who had been advised by her JobCentre to quit the council to help her job prospects. The big idea of youth guarantees (more of which tomorrow) would lend some EU help to reducing youth unemployment, but the very personal nature of unemployment means that any help must also have a strongly local character.
Employment and social protection are areas where the EU has very little influence and not much financial firepower. Attempts to help workers retrain and find new work under the Globalisation Fund, which is under severe budgetary pressure, shows how difficult it is for the EU to have an impact without the money necessary to act. Some of what the S&D can do is working on changing the single market rules to help employment - Glenis Willmott highlighted work on the new Public Procurement Directive to strengthen social and environmental criteria for public authorities when placing orders with businesses. The more abstract nature of EU work was reflected in the debates, however, as most of questions and panel discussions centred around making Labour more campaign-orientated and focusing on what could be done in universities and locally by counsels to boost employment.
All of this is important, but little explicit link was made between these local campaigns - or local party members - and engagement with the European party or European campaigns. Is there support for Labour party members not only to launch local campaigns, but also to try and launch grassroots European campaigns? What about the Youth Guarantee - there is a website dedicated to the Youth Guarantee, but it is well known locally in the party and are there ways for the local party to get involved in the campaign? Also, can Labour counsels get involved in the campaign and link up with local authorities in Austria and Finland, where such guarantees already exist to see what they can already do without EU funding (or just with PES/S&D support)?
There were a lot of interesting debates around unemployment on Saturday, but it still felt like there was an invisible wall between the discussions on action at a local and national level, and on action at a European level. The raw material for linking them together, getting local party members involved in European projects, and bringing Europe closer to citizens seems to be there, but they need to be drawn together. If Youth Guarantees are about bringing EU policy, national policy, business and unions together to enable young people to find their way into the workforce, then perhaps there also needs to be a stronger party version of pathways into participation on European campaigns and policy.