The Bilbao Youth Employment Forum was attended by Manuel Cadarso, head of the Economic Growth and Employment Department of the Spanish International Cooperation and Development Agency (AECID), who presented, together with the ILO representative, Joaquin Nieto, the Millennium Sustainable Development Goals. Cadarso expressed his concern for youth unemployment in Spain – “having a 50% rate is outrageous” – and he criticised the 70% cut to the budget of the agency he works for. He proposes a relationship of equals between Spain and Latin America and trusts that the commitment to the SDGs will lead to the strengthening of the AECID. “If there is one pending issue, it is that the Agency should become a more professionalized body”, he commented.

– What is your opinion of the BYEF?
I found it very interesting. I went there to learn in my capacity as the head of the Agency’s Economic Growth and Employment Department; in this case, with a greater emphasis on the relations of Spain with developing countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia; and, obviously, youth unemployment, sub-employment and the informal labour market in those countries, which are also of great concern. This is why I was interested in first-hand knowledge of what business and social agents, as well as the Basque Administration, were doing.

– Do you think that some of the solutions put forward could be applied in other regions of the world?
I do. In fact, we have some specific experiences, such as the case of workshop schools, which used to be linked to the recovery of historical and colonial heritage in Latin America, and that are now teaching skills to people in vulnerable situations. A model that I can use as an example is the initiative undertaken by the architect, Peridis, who launched his first workshop school in Aguilar de Campoo. We are also launching another programme in Honduras that belongs to what we call delegated cooperation, i.e. funds that the EU transfers to the Agency in Madrid and to the OTC in Honduras to design initiatives in support of youth employment.

– In these countries, unemployment is also connected with informal employment.
Surprisingly, what Latin America has been suffering for decades, which is sub-employment, is starting to happen in Spain. The unemployment rate in those countries is generally lower when compared with Spanish figures, but there is a large group of unemployed people. They speak of an equivalent unemployment rate where they calculate how many people would be accounted for if that group had full employment. This issue is compounded by the informal economy issue, mainly in service sector businesses. They have a serious problem to which we have to add something that does not happen in Spain that much: those vulnerable groups are prey to criminal gangs and many young people end up in violent gangs, such as the “maras”.

– Is there much difference between unemployment in the various continents?
I am not an expert on this subject; however, the case of Latin America cannot be compared to that of Africa, and even less to sub-Saharan countries. We are speaking of another type of problem, such as production based on primary and extraction industries. Latin America saw significant growth over the past decade and, although primary sectors with limited added value are starting to become more important, there is a greater level of economic and financial development and an industrial and service sector fabric that Africa cannot even consider yet.  In the case of Asia, it depends on each country. You have the giant, China, and if you go to Taiwan or South Korea you find countries that have become fully industrialised.

– What is your stance on the Pegasus project as a way of seeking a global solution to youth unemployment?
I think my generation has had a fairly easy ride in achieving ever higher levels of personal autonomy. This requires a certain level of economic resources through work, so that you can then borrow to buy a flat or have a family. Now we have many young people who cannot achieve that economic solvency and who are postponing their life projects. Any effort made by the public authorities and companies to solve this issue is welcome. I found the reform of the labour market that has been approved really hurtful; I am suffering it myself at home. I have a daughter working 20 hours a week for a salary of 800 euros, and she is almost privileged compared to other people who may not even have that. This leads to a society with problems that can sometimes become mentally unhealthy and it leads to family and social conflict. All the initiatives that are taken regarding this issue with a view to reversing the situation to what we had in the 1970s-1980s… – when we left university, although there was unemployment the rate wasn’t 50%, which is an outrageous figure. Youth unemployment is a serious issue because it also creates deeper problems that may prevent social and political development.

– What the importance do you give to economic and employment development programmes within the activities of the Agency?
They are important together with rural development, agriculture, water and sanitation, which have a separate budget. Latin America is a geographical area where Spain can change the type of cooperation in the sense of: I give you something, I support you to reach a position of greater exchange, especially if we are speaking about knowledge. For example, there are world level social researchers in Brazil or Argentina. We can consider a relationship between equals in which both sides benefit.

– Are rich countries still living with their backs turned on poorer countries?
There is a bit of cynicism regarding this issue. The United Kingdom is very careful in its relationships with Commonwealth countries, which is where it has a comparative commercial advantage regarding investments. Or France with French Africa. Spain went through a stage, which we have to overcome, of a certain level of restraint when it came to cooperating with Latin American countries due to the fact that other EU countries are moving out of the region because they are no longer considered the least developed. Spain can argue, and it has good reasons, to favour this cooperation for development and I hope that relationship between equals comes to fruition. We have to do away with any complex because it will benefit our country and we must not forget the traditional links we have with these nations.

– In this context and after the reduction in the AECID’s budget, how do you do more with less?
Although I understand the consequences of the crisis and the purpose for reducing the deficit; it is difficult for a professional dedicated to cooperation for development working for the Agency to see the budget cut by 70% over three to four years. We could say that there is no need to exaggerate. There are a number of activities that need funding and the Agency now has a budget of around 250 million euros to keep 25 technical offices operational, with staff, experts, projects, funding programmes for NGOs… We are going to try to compensate, but Spain has its 0.7% commitment. If there is a pending issue, it is that the Agency should become a more professionalised body, with greater criteria, with professionals with improved skills, so that we can draw up alliances to take on joint programmes with the EU or with German, French, Norwegian…. agencies. In other words, I think the great drawback in cooperation for development is the Agency’s own institutional weakness; I don’t think it’s ready. In addition, with the changes on the horizon due to the Sustainable Development Goals, we are going to have to do something; we cannot carry on as usual.

– What countries dedicate more resources to international cooperation?
Nordic countries, Sweden, Norway, Denmark… England, in spite of the crisis, have increased their budget to 0.7% of their GDP. Portugal and Greece have not reduced theirs as much as Spain. The ones that dedicate most? Surely the United States, although with commercial cooperation in mind, Germany, France, Japan and the EU as an organisation. Perhaps we should move towards greater coordination in cooperation for development with EU member states.

– Can ordinary citizens do more?
This is a complicated issue to understand for citizens that could be summarised with the question: why do we go so far to help people when there are millions of people in Spain who are unemployed, at risk of poverty, who do not have enough to eat? This type of long-distance solidarity can be performed by NGOs but you can’t ask too much of a citizen who is going through a tough time here. Secondly, there is an issue of raising awareness, of explaining that poverty issues in Africa or in Arab countries is surely our problem, too. Merkel distinguished between economic migrants and those fleeing armed conflicts; I find that distinction misleading; what’s the difference? If they are coming it is because they are going through bad times and Europeans have done the same throughout history, we have gone to North America, South America… There is also an issue with the ageing of the population and immigration may become essential to compensate for low birth rates. It is a complicated problem but people are increasingly starting to understand that this is going to develop faster in the future. Other people’s problems will eventually affect us.

– You propose sustainable consumption.
There is not much awareness in Spain regarding consumption models and that, in the end, affects production models. We do not think about this too much but there is a type of consumption that you could perfectly do without because nothing would happen to you and we could adopt a type of society that is fairer and more sustainable. But this would have to be much more widespread. Fair trade figures amount to tickling an elephant; it’s not bad because utopias usually start with a small detail. As the planet’s problems get worse, people will have to think about and question the significance of their personal actions.