Did the economic crisis in Europe hit you or your friends? In many countries it left its mark. Especially on the labour market, where the unemployment of young people is very high in most countries. At the upcoming European Boards’ Meeting in Malta the impact of the crisis on young people will therefore be one of the main topics. In fact, the EBM starts on Friday with an opening panel discussion on this topic – one of the panelists is Marta Gutierrez Benet, former President of AEGEE-Valencia and fund-raising manager of AEGEE’s Beyond Europe flagship project. “Governments and young people should work together to make opportunities more visible, and find alternative ways out of the problem”, Marta told the Golden Times.

spain-youth-unemploymentGolden Times: Marta, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of the panel topic “The impact of the crisis on young people”?
Marta Gutierrez Benet: Probably the fact that it is not a theoretical discussion anymore, but a reality you can feel and hear in any conversation among young people, but also among adults. It is a reality for most of us – either we experience it ourselves or we all know somebody touched by the consequences, translated into the impossibility of finding a job or into increased difficulties for finding one.

Golden Times: You are from Spain, a country with a particularly high level of unemployment of young people. How do you and your friends in Spain experience this situation?
Marta: The situation is especially critical for those young people with fewer opportunities to leave the country, above all those experiencing serious linguistic barriers to work abroad. It has definitely become the topic of discussion in all social circles, together with the sensitive political situation we are experiencing.

Golden Times: Currently you live in Belgium. Is the situation different there? 
Marta: In Belgium the chances of finding a job for young people coming from Spain are still higher than in our home country; however it is true that competition is growing very quickly and, in my opinion, the market is getting a bit swamped – especially when it comes to the Brussels area. Belgium offers a big amount of internships, therefore it is a good place to come if you are interested in EU or International Affairs, for example, but the situation varies a bit once looking for longer term positions.

Marta Gutierrez Benet2Golden Times: What should the politicians do against this situation? Are there some positive examples of government actions or policies in Europe?
Marta: Unfortunately it is difficult to transfer best practices from country to country right now, because of the different exiting scenarios in each of them. However, one element which should be strengthened even in times of crisis is quality in education and training, and guaranteeing the equal access to it. Supporting entrepreneurship among young people, with real measures which would facilitate the starting point and sustainability of young initiatives are also elements which should be present in each country strategy.

Golden Times: In some EU countries young people demonstrated against their government because of the crisis’ impact on young people. Does it have any impact? What else can young people do?
Marta: I think young unemployment has entered the centre of political discussion, on the one hand due to social pressure, but also because for many countries it has become a structural problem in itself with influence in many dimensions of the productive system. It is indeed a difficult moment for young people, therefore governments and young people, at individual level as well, but also through youth organisations of all kind, should work together to make opportunities more visible, and find alternative ways out of the problem.

Golden Times: Across Europe, as a result of the crisis populism and nationalism is on the rise, also among young people. What can or must AEGEE against this tendency?
Marta: In my opinion, AEGEE and in particular its different events all over Europe have the capacity to bring young people together and show that differences are bigger in mental schemes than in reality. From my point of view, more Europe is needed in a context like the one we are living now, and the strength AEGEE has is the power to unite young Europeans under common goals, sharing tasks and defining where we want to go and achieve together. As we have seen ourselves in our network, it is not an easy task, but at the same time I consider AEGEE as a good laboratory for more integration.

Marta Gutierrez Benet1Golden Times: Which other impacts of the crisis do you see on young people? And what could be done against it?
Marta: One of the most worrying effects I have noticed is the erosion of motivation, hopes and ambition in many young persons. The sad mood can be noticed in conversations among groups of friends, for example, and this is something which should be tackled urgently. The situation is critical, but more positive communication should be done by all stakeholders in order to overcome the current difficulties. We, as youth organisations, youth workers, together with the responsible institutions, have to put the emphasis on showing the available opportunities to survive despite the crisis, and to move forward. It is probably the most difficult moment for it but, in my opinion, a positive attitude is crucial.

Golden Times: You are currently working as interim employee – and had the chance to work in the Youth in Action Unit of the European Commission. How is the general sentiment of the people there regarding the impact of the crisis on young people?
Marta: I must say, my impression about people working for the Institutions is in general very positive, trying to contribute to solving the current situation. I had the chance during the last months to have conversations on the topic with many EU officials and also external professionals, as well as to work in different tasks with them. Above all in the fields of Education, Youth and Employment, which are the areas I know closer, people are really conscious of the situation. From my experience, they are always glad to listen to the opinions of younger people and to incorporate our points of view to their daily work. In addition to this, there are currently many young people working in the Institutions, which makes it easier for everybody to picture the problem and to look for possible solutions from a closer perspective.

Marta Gutierrez Benet5Golden Times: A few words about you: how old are you, where are you from, what did you study?
Marta: I am 27 years old, born in Valencia, although my roots are half Valencian, half from Burgos. I studied Journalism and Political Science in Valencia, and afterwards did my master in EU International Relations and Diplomacy in Bruges.

Golden Times: You were President of AEGEE-Valencia, you were fund-raising manager of AEGEE’s Beyond Europe flagship project. What do you personal see as your personal highlights of your time in AEGEE so far?
Marta: Discovering AEGEE was a highlight in itself for my personal development, because I found the perfect atmosphere were to develop my interest in the EU while enjoying and discovering lots of new things and countries. The experience in Valencia at local level was very rewarding, because it showed me a lot about constant hand-to-hand work with the board, with its difficulties and successes, and I remember it as a very special period. At the same time, Beyond Europe was a big challenge for the whole team. It was also personally very rewarding because of materialising such a complex initiative, and also for the experience in itself, with all the competences we learnt and the strong ties we built beyond the European border with fellow young people.

Marta Gutierrez BenetGolden Times: What were your favourite AEGEE events?
Marta: Since I attended my first one in Torino, I always confessed that EBM is my favorite event, for its perfect size, the content of the work we did there, among other things. Of course, the Case Study Trip to India was magic, I will never forget the moment we came out of the plane and realised that the project was really becoming true.

Golden Times: Are you still active in AEGEE?
Marta: I would say yes, once again, after a break, but now in a slightly different manner as before. I had my chance for implementing projects, enjoying the feeling of running a board and a working group, and all were experiences I will never regret. However, now I see a very interesting period in AEGEE in which lots of discussion are going on in relation to the sociopolitical situation of Europe and which is our role as organisation. There I really feel motivated to contribute, trying to engage our members to be more active at a content level and to take all opportunities AEGEE gives to put into practice good ideas and to learn while having fun.

Golden Times: Next to your job at the European Commission, you are one of the founders of “Under30 – The Youth Development Agency”. What is that?
Marta: It is a project which is ran by five young people, some of us AEGEE members, former interns from the European Commission or colleagues from our Master Students. Particularly Mario Giuseppe Varrenti, the Executive Director, was also the Project Manager of the Beyond Europe Flagship Project, and coordinates us now in our work in Under30. Since we launched the project in January 2012, we have put together a Network of more than 800 youth organisations all over the world to empower young people to become leaders in development cooperation. In particular, we give them technical advice for their project proposals to obtain funding opportunities, we also inform them about possible open calls to finance their initiatives, and finally give them support in fields such as project management, communications, fundraising techniques and more. In any case, any person interested in knowing more or contributing in any or other way to the initiative, just feel free to contact us. Our e-mail address:  under30yda@gmail.com.

Marta Gutierrez Benet4Golden Times: What hobbies do you have?
Marta: Since I was a child I love music – I always have my Saxo with me – and playing football with my friends. There are many things I like to do in my free time, but in general I enjoy taking time to spend with my friends, cooking something nice, long chats and good music and laughing a lot.

Golden Times: Please complete this sentence: “AEGEE is for me…
Marta: “AEGEE is for me… the place where I lived most of the best moments of my life”. Also the frame which makes any good idea possible, if you water it with hard work.

Golden Times: Please describe yourself in five keywords.
Marta: Mediterranean, pragmatic, attentive, outgoing and down-to-earth.