The young Danes undaunted by Europe's problems

By Emma Jane Kirby
BBC News

image captionProblems affecting people of student age elsewhere in the EU seemed alien to these young Danes

In a dimly lit youth club bar in central Copenhagen, 18-year-old Rasmus and Julie look puzzled when I ask them if they would describe their peer group in the same way as their British, Spanish, French or Greek counterparts might do, as the "Lost Generation".

Suspecting they may not have quite understood the English terminology, I explain that a lot of British teenagers I talk to feel that crippling student debts, rising youth unemployment and extortionate house prices have left them with no real place in society.

Rasmus holds up his hand to stop me and says in perfect colloquial English: "Yeah, it's not that I didn't get what you were saying, it's just that it all sounds... like pretty alien to us."

Rasmus and Julie will both go on to university next year. Higher education in Denmark is free and they will also be given access to government grants and loans to help them with accommodation costs.

"Money isn't really a problem here," explains Rasmus. "I can pretty much do what I like [in terms of education] without even thinking about it."

image captionThe Danish Youth Council recognises the social importance of local youth clubs

It is not meant to sound arrogant or smug - it is simply that successive Danish governments from both the left and the right of the political spectrum have poured money into the young generation, particularly into education.

"We believe our young people are our future and we want to send a very clear message," Christine Antorini, the Danish minister for children and education, tells me solemnly in her office which is impressively decorated with red Lego tulips.

"It's education, education, education. It doesn't matter if your parents never went to university or if they're not rich, we want to give everyone a chance with education."

Students and apprentices

Denmark has not been exempted from the financial crisis and, like most European countries, it too has noted a rise in unemployment.

The jobless rate among youth aged between 16 and 24 years increased to 5.3% in February this year from 5.2 in January - but it still has one of the lowest rates in the EU.

Keeping school-leavers inside the education system helps keep the numbers down.

And if students do not make the necessary grades to move on to university, a sophisticated system of apprenticeships means no-one is left in a void.

According to Christine Antorini, around 90% of those completing technical or vocational colleges will find a job.

image captionSandra says she has no fears at all for the future

At the Lego factory in Billund, where I meet 24-year-old Sandra Warncke Hansen, a plastic moulding apprentice, it is easy to see why.

Although she is still at technical school and has not been working at the factory very long, Sandra handles the complex machines she is using extremely confidently, tipping out the little red Lego bricks and carefully checking them for any imperfections.

"We oversee and direct some of the training she receives at school," her supervisor, Henrik Oestergaard Nielsen, explains to me when I remark that she seems very competent.

"So when she arrives to do the practical training she is more or less ready to work. It's a good system."

Sandra tells me she enjoys the hands-on approach at Lego and feels more confident than some of her university educated friends that she will find employment when she completes her training.

"I have no fears for the future," she smiles. "Absolutely none at all."

Youth club culture

Back in the Copenhagen youth club, Rasmus and Julie are jamming with some friends in an upstairs room.

The sound is pretty raw and the singing certainly will not win them a place on X Factor but I am struck by the harmonious nature of their collaboration.

In fact Danish youngsters belong to more out-of-school clubs and voluntary organisations than any of their European counterparts.

"It is in these activities, these youth clubs, that good citizens are made," says Signe Bo, president of the Danish Youth Council.

"We have to give them the self-confidence they need to take society when it comes to them."

We chat about the general Danish attitude to the young generation and I note that the Danish government is the youngest in Europe - in fact one of the cabinet members, Thor Moger Pedersen, minister for taxation, is just 26.

I ask Signe if she thinks politics matter to young Danes or whether they feel that what is discussed in parliament is irrelevant to their lives. She laughs.

"Danish youth have never been so politically engaged," she says.

"They feel like they matter and this is also an explanation as to why you don't see Danish youth out in the streets demonstrating and tearing down society. They want to build it up and they want to do it through democratic structures."

Julie and Rasmus seem more interested right now in building up their musical skills and practising their vocals but just before I leave the youth club, to give my ears a break from the screeching electric guitars, Julie says she would like to add something to the comments she has given me.

"I don't think we're lost at all in Demark," she tells me "but I guess we're very spoilt."

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