|Image: Daily Record|
The Arab Spring has transformed the political landscape of North Africa, leading to regime change in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt (amongst others) and reform in Morocco. In recent decades rising living standards and literacy rates, as well as the increased availability of higher education, have resulted in a general rise in the standard of living and, as importantly, an increase in expectations across the region. This, in turn, led to tension between rising aspirations and the “deliverability” of meaningful reforms, especially to a better educated and internet savvy youth. Indeed, a university professor in Oman, Al-Najma Zidjaly referred to this upheaval as youthquake.
It is to be hoped that this lesson has not been lost across the developed world. In Greece and Spain, more than 50% of the under-25s looking for work are unemployed (although it should be noted that this does not take into account those in education or training). Portugal, Italy and Ireland have a youth unemployment rate of more than 30% using the same measure reflecting the sharp rise across the developed world since the onset of the financial crisis in 2008. Part of the issue lies in arcane working practices. For example, in Italy under current rules, a newly hired employee with a permanent contract has the same protection as someone who has worked for the company for 30 years. This creates a huge disincentive for employers looking to hire more staff and has encouraged the use of short term contracts. Clearly this is a potential powder keg waiting to blow as the social strains of a disaffected and disillusioned youth grow and grow.
As for Italy, as if these problems were not enough, the Financial Times reported today that former Prime Minister and former cruise ship lothario, Silvio Berlusconi is preparing to make a comeback. Signor Berlusconi does, of course, have a well documented interest in youth but it seems unlikely that his re-emergence onto the political stage in Italy will be beneficial in the current situation.