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Interview with Kathleen Van Brempt, Socialist MEP

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Although the European Elections are taking up all of her time, Socialist MEP Kathleen Van Brempt, member of the Belgian socialist party sp.a, allowed us at Internal Voices to shoot her some questions on youth unemployment, climate change and the future of Europe. With a vibrant voice, this MEP active from 2009 in the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy as well as Public Health and Food Security, passionately defends her opinion on all these matters. On why the youth needs to misbehave a bit more and be the architects of their European future.

Internal Voices being a magazine made up of young trainees and interns, youth unemployment obviously is on the top of our list of major concerns. What can be done to create more jobs for the youth?

There are two perspectives to this story. The global one is one where we have to step away from this mentality of cutting the budget of social security, project investments etc. To get out of a crisis and regenerate a working economy, you have to invest and set up healthy policies. Secondly, and this one applies specifically to the youth, you have to prevent this fresh generation, who just got out of school and are confronted with an economically difficult climate, getting pushed aside first, depriving them of their chances of obtaining a real first job. Before you know it, the percentage of youth unemployment reaches hallucinating heights with one quarter to one third of young professionals not finding employment. You end up with a whole generation of educated and/or skilled persons that want to start their lives, simply put aside. This demands very specific policies; policies that guarantee them a job, training or internships when they enter the labour force. A job is preferable of course, but if this isn’t an option straight away, paid internships.

You mention paid internships, so I’m assuming you think those should be the rule and not the exception?

Absolutely, I think the concept of unpaid internships is utterly incorrect. Let me explain why: with such internships, only graduates still receiving help from home are eligible for such work experiences. The average graduate, who has to pay for everything him or herself, is left out. This is exactly the reason why internships need to be accessible to all. I can understand they might not earn as much as when working under a steady contact, since internships do serve as steps towards a real job. But in that case, the internships have to be restricted in time while covering all living expenses.

Being paid for doing an internship is indeed ideal, but a lot of times, the budget for subsidies is quite small. What is the solution to create more paid internships?

We have to realise that it is a fundamental right to get paid for your labour. Working without pay is simply unacceptable. Don’t beat around the bush; enforce such regulations by law. I do not agree with the opposition that this will narrow down the number of internships offered. The budget set aside to tackle youth unemployment, 8 billion, is way too small. It has to be a higher and more ambitious number. It is not a perfect comparison, but let me remind you that in order to save the banks during the latest financial crisis 1600 billion euros of government money was spent. And we would only want to spend one two hundredth on tackling one of the main issues nowadays, youth unemployment? That is simply not right. The budget to battle youth unemployment should be at least 100 billion so you can adequately financially support intern- and traineeships.

What can the European Parliament actually learn from the younger generation through events like the European Youth Event in Strasbourg?

It is extremely important that the youth bundles its good and bad experiences and form a front and make their issues visible through a grand, visible network. I sometimes think young people are a bit too well-behaved. They should be enraged with the policies Europe has been conducting over the past few years. Simultaneously, they should work hard on stimulating the European project. This might sound contradictory, but it is actually very important to do this all together. We need to feed off of this general frustration towards the saving of the euro and not the saving of the European citizens, towards the banks that have put us in this financial crisis, towards youth unemployment. But we have to convert this anger and power in positive changes for the European Union. It doesn’t make sense to not confront the problem, to hide under your sheets and let the problem solve itself. That is never going to work, no matter if it concerns climate change or youth employment: we tackle those problems together.

Then why do you think the youth is so reluctant or even indifferent to voting during the European Elections?

Because, mistakenly, they think that when it comes to Europe, they won’t be able to change anything. It’s a pretty general feeling among Europeans. Not only does Europe seem distant to the average citizen, but it also feels like it is leading governing policies that they have no impact on whatsoever. Nothing could be further from the truth. A European vote is as important as, if not more than, a vote for local or federal authorities, exactly because the impact of Europe is so big. But also because we are perfectly capable of changing that. If the left wing can win the elections in Europe, we and the citizens can take control again and tackle the problems that matter, like youth unemployment.

You mentioned the topic of climate change earlier. What are the main priorities of the Socialist Party in combatting climate change?

First of all, recognising it as a true and pressing matter. Climate change is often debated as if it is a long-term issue. This is a way of thinking we have to distance ourselves from: now is the time to tackle it and that also means looking at the more short-term solutions. Europe needs to take up its leading role again with regards to big scale regulations and solutions. It’s a global problem that needs to be handled on a global level, but Europe, just like other parts of the world (just think of the USA) has been hiding itself too much behind the financial crisis during these past few years. Secondly, we need to implement enforcement regulations in all member states in the areas of CO2 emissions, energy efficiency and sustainable energy.

In other words, you are convinced that ecology and economy do go hand in hand?

I am absolutely convinced that getting out of the financial crisis goes hand in hand with tackling climate change issues.

So what is the future of sustainable energy in your opinion?

It is the only future for energy I see. On the European level for instance, I advocated against a hype that seemed to emerge in Europe regarding shale gas. Against the idea that, as long as we can frack and drill in the ground, our economy will continue to prosper. This not a solution for our economy and definitely not for our ecological challenges. The only future I see when it comes to energy is one that is fully sustainable. That target is perfectly achievable by 2050 if we make the right decisions now. It is too often said that renewable energy is funded at the expense of fossil fuels, but it is actually the other way round. Fossil fuels still get the double amount of subsidies compared to renewable energy.

The carbon emission targets were lower than initially planned, will you try and raise them again after these elections?

Of course, it’s also what we have been supporting in Parliament. I don’t want to get stuck in endless discussions on the number behind the comma; the most important task is to make them legally enforceable. To achieve that, we can never give up being ambitious.
Talking about ambition, what is the future of Europe? What should be their focus after the European elections?
Without a doubt the social aspect of it all. There is still a strong, social Europe left somewhere under the social demolition that has been happening these past few years. This social demolition needs to end and we need to invest in its reconstruction. To give a crucial example: a minimum wage has to be implemented across the Union, so everyone has the certainty that their money will last till the end of the month. It’s of course a relative amount, it won’t be the same in every country, but the principle of a decent wage has to be ensured once and for all and taken up in the European laws. All member states should make a “Social Europe” their top priority.


Gladys Vercammen-Grandjean is currently an intern at the United Nations regional Information Center (UNRIC).

Last modified on Friday, 23 May 2014 11:20

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