French and Greek electors voted at the weekend against austerity regimes and for promises of growth and jobs. You can see what the hoi polloi are unhappy about: severe pension cuts, loss of public sector jobs, unemployment now at an average of 10.9 per cent across the eurozone, and youth unemployment over 20 per cent. But wouldn’t biting the austerity bullet for a few years be better than riding another wave of debt?

The global debt crisis does seem to call for a new realism about the relationship between effort and lifestyle. The EU Commissioner in charge of education, culture, multilingualism and youth is calling for European schools to turn out students who are more entrepreneurial and with a positive attitude to risk-taking. Cypriot Andoulla Vassiliou told

“Educational systems should continue to embed entrepreneurship. We need to instil our young people with a positive attitude towards risk-taking and not to be afraid to start again if they experience failure.” 

The EU has put youth unemployment at the top of its agenda, says Ms Vassiliou. And there are jobs if people are trained for the right ones, and in the right way.

European Commission estimates show that 20 million jobs could be created by 2020 in the green economy and 8 million in the health sector. Jobs for information and communications technology specialists have been growing by 3% a year, even during the crisis, and Europe will be short 700,000 ICT workers by 2015 at current trends.

“We need to better prepare our young people to fill these jobs and create new ones. Having the right skill set is crucial. Studying abroad or taking up a work placement in a foreign company, for example, improves language skills, adaptability and self-confidence,” she added.

EU states have to make it easier to start up a business, says Ms Vassilious, who also has great hopes for an “Erasmus For All” programme due to start in 2014. The aim of the programme is to create 400 “Knowledge Alliances” and “Sector Skills Alliances”, which are large-scale partnerships between higher education institutions and businesses to promote creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship by offering learning opportunities and qualifications, also through new forms of vocational training.

“Erasmus For All” is an offshoot of an EU student exchange programme going back to 1987. The Dutch Renaissance humanist’s name was chosen apparently because of his love of new learning. It is also a backronym (an acronym created on purpose, Wiki informs us) which stands for European Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students.

I guess Erasmus would approve of educating young people for risk-taking, although he might want a good measure of ethical formation in there as well — after the model of his friend Sir (and Saint) Thomas More, whose family he admired so much. He did write a book called On Civility in Children.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet