PARIS –French youth join other Europeans in worrying about the economy and employment as the presidential vote approaches this spring. With polls still unclear about a frontrunner between socialist François Hollande and conservative incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy, French students talk to SmartPlanet about how they view the election.
About a quarter of French people aged 15-24 face unemployment. While better employed than young people in troubled European countries like Greece and Italy, this French lost generation is still struggling to find jobs after college and seems to be taking a backseat to bigger political issues at stake this year.
French activist groups like l’Association de la Jeunesse de France (Association for French Youth), are working to better the conditions for French youth. The Association’s president Maxime Verner submitted 12 proposals for reform at the end of 2011 to the National Assembly, including demands for more affordable housing and state-sponsored entrepreneurial schools. At 22 years old, Verner acts as the candidate for young people, urging other candidates to invest more in the future. "Youth are the future of this country and of our social model," he said.
Whether in reaction to the younger generation’s voice or in anticipation of the election, French President Sarkozy announced last month a budget redistribution to help create jobs and train workers, but it may be too late to convince the twenty-somethings that he is the best candidate.
With the end of their studies creeping up, the job market is a priority for all young people, mostly students, who responded to SmartPlanet's survey. Each mentioned economy or finding a job as one of their top concerns this year. Marine Bucher, 24, is hoping that whichever candidate wins, he or she will change the economic climate. “I’ll finish my studies next year and I admit I’m apprehensive about looking for a job,” she said.
Franck Babeau, 23, also said the economy was his number one issue. “All other issues come from economic problems,” he said. Orianne Sauvagnat, 25, agrees. “The question of jobs for youth and housing will be crucial in each campaign,” she said.
Nina Miletti, 25, is hoping for a swift end to the financial crisis. “This election interests me in terms of a resolution to the crisis and of the future of France in the worldview,” she said.
While the economy and job market prevail the discourse, young French citizens are not ignoring other issues important to them. Sauvagnat said that environment is no longer a private matter. Young people are increasingly aware of green and sustainable efforts.
Social issues are also a concern in a country struggling with national identity. Lucile Doussin, 24, said that issues like ethnic discrimination, gay and lesbian rights, and handicap awareness are also important. “I’m hoping for some big changes in these issues because it’s a place where France is behind,” she said.
Melanie Lallet, 23, agrees that economic and financial issues often overshadow, unfortunately, important social problems. “For me these issues are primordial,” she said.
While economic issues prevail, how do French youth take action in politics? Later this week, SmartPlanet asks the students how they stay informed and involved in the 2012 elections.