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EU not doing enough to tackle youth unemployment, says Spanish digital nomad

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EU not doing enough to tackle youth unemployment, says Spanish digital nomad
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Several years ago, like many of his generation, Gonzalo Ajihado left his native Spain, where opportunities were scarce, to settle in London.

"This is the most difficult thing for young people here, the difficulty to find a job. That's the reason why people go away to other countries," he said.

Spain was hit particularly hard by the 2008 financial crisis and young people paid a high price. Youth unemployment in the country peaked at nearly 56% in 2013, according to World Bank data.

Last year, it stood at 34.3%, just over double the EU average and the second-worst in the 28-country bloc behind Greece, according to Eurostat. And although the rate has sharply come down, young people remain at much greater risk of joblessness with nearly 45% of youth employees on temporary contracts and nearly a third in part-time jobs.

'I decided to convert into a digital nomad'

Luckily for Ajihado, now 28, his time in the British capital was eye-opening.

"In London, I realised what I wanted to do," he said. "I decided to convert into a digital nomad. That basically is carrying your job in your van, or in your backpack, and connecting to the internet and working through the internet."

Since then, the web developer has made the decision to return to Spain and live in a van in order to facilitate his travels, recording his adventures and publishing them on his Youtube channel where he also dispenses travel and blogging advice.

His freelance career has allowed him to visit more than 30 countries and live in 11 different places while still making money.

He's far from the only one to have opted to become his own boss. The number of independent workers (iPros) in the EU jumped 45% between 2004 and 2013 from just under 6.2 million to 8.9 million, according to a report released by the European Forum of Independent Professionals.

At the time, Professor Patricia Leighton of the IPAG Business School in France stated that: "The EU faces unprecedented levels of unemployment and without this growth in iPro working, the picture would be much gloomier."

'I like the EU ... I don't like borders'

But although he's managed to carve out his own niche, Ajihado believes the EU is not "taking care" of the issue of youth unemployment.

In response to the crisis, the EU created a European Social Fund and the Youth Employment Initiative, the latter of which was endowed with an €8 billion budget between 2014 and 2020.

Despite his criticism of the bloc, he remains positive about it.

"I like the EU. I mean, I think it's something good. I don't like borders so one good thing about the EU was that I could go and live in London without a visa," he explained.

In that way, he is like many in Europe. A Pew Research Center study released in March found that 62% of people across 10 EU countries had an overall favourable opinion of the bloc, but an equal amount also criticised it for not understanding the needs of its citizens.

In particular, only 40% of the study's respondents approved how the bloc is dealing with economic issues and 58% were pessimistic about the next generation's financial future, believing that when children in their country grow up, they will be worse off.

"We don’t know too much about the European role here in Spain. I think we should know more about it, because, in the end, it’s something very important to Spanish people, to young people," Ajihado added.

'Key battle'

In a paper released in February, the European Council of Foreign Relations, a think-tank, predicted that Spain, along with Germany, France, Italy, and Poland, would be among the "key battles" of the European parliamentary elections taking place on May 23-26.

This is because of Spain's unusual political situation. The general elections in April — the third in four years — saw Pedro Sanchez re-elected prime minister, but the Socialist leader needs the backing of other parties to form a government.

The election also resulted in the far-right Vox party entering parliament — a first in the country since it became a democracy following the death of Francisco Franco in 1975.