During the past week we have seen strong debate about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and industry fears over the abolition of tariffs. The agreement as a whole will be a great opportunity to boost investment and encourage commerce. However, in the long run both sides of the Atlantic must address a more fundamental issue that will affect generations to come: education.
The two key principles of the agreement as announced will be the abolition of tariffs and the standardization of regulations. According to the European Commission, EU companies will be able to sell an estimated additional €187 billion worth of goods and services a year to the United States. The commission, which will be negotiating on behalf of the EU, also predicts that the average European household will gain an annual €545 in income. The free trade partnership would become the largest ever in history, encompassing the United States and the 28 states of the European Union.
Getting rid of the remaining tariffs would increase the average GDP of European countries by 0.4% and the American GDP by over 1%, although it is not realistic to assume that all tariffs will be abandoned. More importantly, the adjustment of regulation to a transatlantic standard would probably increase GDP in both areas by over 3%, even though this is a very hard estimate to make considering the lack of details that have been given regarding the topic.
This is all good news, but what about youth unemployment?
In the euro zone over 24.4% of young adults are currently unemployed and more than 5.6 million people under 26 are unable to find a job. This is paralleled by a lower rate of 16% in the United States. This however hides the fact that wages are generally lower and many jobs taken by the young in America would be considered part-time in the EU. Both sides of the Atlantic are struggling at providing good professional prospects for our generation and until now there has been little talk by transatlantic leaders about how the agreement will tackle this issue concretely.
Here’s a hint: education. Unless the two sides of the Atlantic agree to a certain education format, which enables students to transition into the professional world smoothly, the free trade agreement will do little to encourage a more mobile and international new generation.
In the past the European Union and the United States have shown some degree of understanding of the necessity to coordinate their education systems. The Atlantis Program, funded by the Department of Education and the Commission’s Directorate General for Education and Culture, looked to find ways to align the academic curricula in the two regions. However, the program was not reaching out into the professional transition that all students have to make at the end of their academic careers and lost momentum in the past few years.
TTIP must be seen as an occasion to talk about this issue. Standardizing the cost of education for EU and U.S. students would be a start, allowing for more Americans to study in Europe and vice versa. More importantly, universities and secondary schools must have access to a network of companies on both sides of the Atlantic looking to hire, encouraging mobility and international employment. Better communication between academic and private institutions can tackle structural employment and make the labor force in both regions more dynamic and competitive. Allowing better cooperation and oversight with the private sector may also help fund programs that are actually training the young for existing professions, providing better returns for an investment in higher-education or alternative technical training.
The objective has to be that of creating a more uniform and dynamic Euro-American generation of professionals. At this time in transatlantic relations, there is strong political capital behind the drafting of the trade agreement. Leaders must ensure that education becomes a core issue of the debate.