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Next Generation EU: for a Digital, Young, and Female Future!

Updated: Sep 23, 2021

An old man standing with his back to the camera, he has a carton board on his back which reads "Every Day is Future". He is at a protest or gathering.

Next Generation EU is a recovery plan by the European Commission with the objective to support a qualitative economic and social recovery after the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic and make European economies and societies more sustainable, resilient, and better prepared for the challenges and opportunities of the green and digital transitions. This €750 billion recovery instrument will be financed from funds borrowed on the market by the Commission and distributed amongst the Member States in the form of loans (€250 billion) and grants (€500 billion). Member States are required to prepare a national recovery and resilience plan, approved by the Commission, which focuses on a digital, green, and sustainable transition. According to the Commission, Next Generation EU “is more than a recovery plan. It is a once in a lifetime chance to emerge stronger from the pandemic, transform our economies, create opportunities and jobs for the Europe where we want to live.”

A Digital and Sustainable Transition

A young black man looks into the camera. He is wearing glasses and a jeans-shirt. A yellow triangle in the lower-right corner reds "NEXT GEN EU". Source:

In the Next Generation EU plan, the Commission strongly emphasizes a sustainable and digital transition that encourages resilience and recovery of economic markets. Fifty percent of the funds are supposed to support modernisation and digitalisation, including research and innovation, digital transitions, climate change adaptation, and modernisation of policies. After all, the crisis laid bare several inequalities concerning access to healthcare, education, and democratic participation, as well as the importance of digital technologies to solve these inequalities. Furthermore, each national plan needs to include at least 37% of funds for climate investments and 20% for digital solutions. Green investments are especially important in the infrastructure and transport sectors (e.g. charging stations, energy efficiency, renewable energies, etc.), while digital investments are necessary to provide access to rapid broadband services, sustainable servers, training of digital skills, and digitalisation of public services and administration.

Additionally, national recovery plans need to designate at least 30% of funds to fighting and mitigating climate change. These expenses can be linked to income from contributions based on non-recyclable plastic waste, corporate taxes, the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, and the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme. The Next Generation EU recovery plan is also intrinsically linked to the European Green Deal and focuses specifically on biodiversity, renovation, energy, and the creation of a circular economy. National recovery plans subsequently center around six policy areas:

  • The green transition;

  • The digital transition;

  • Smart, sustainable, and inclusive growth and jobs;

  • Social and territorial cohesion;

  • Health and resilience;

  • And policies for the next generation including education and skills.

Thus, the recovery plan shows the commitment to the three pillars of sustainability by linking economic recovery to environmental sustainability and social prosperity.

An Equal Transition

A young woman crouching confidently in front of an urban background at sunset. A pink triangle in the upper-right corner reads "NEXT GEN EU". Source:

The link with social, and specifically gender, equality was made stronger by the efforts of several organizations and MEPs of the Green Party, led by Alexandra Geese, who came together under the “half of it”-movement. They urged the Commission to link the funds distributed through Next Generation EU to the employment of women and the advancement of women’s rights. The activists called for a gender impact assessment and gender budgeting for all funds under the Next Generation EU framework, as well as investment in a care economy and development of care services from a life-cycle perspective, and a bigger focus on equal distribution of funds to all genders and female-led businesses. They succeeded and the biggest part of the Next Generation EU framework, the Recovery and Resilience Facility, now requires equality checks on a national level and more transparency on equality measures.

Creating a link between Next Generation EU, which is essentially the Covid-19 recovery plan, and gender equality is not a far-fetched idea. After all, the pandemic has had a very serious effect on gender inequalities and essentially created a gender equality crisis. Many industries dominated by women, like healthcare, childcare, retail, and tourism, were heavily affected. Additionally, the crisis put an extra burden on women at home having to do additional unpaid work because of closed schools and childcare facilities, sick family members, and closed canteens. Furthermore, the digital and energy industries which receive a major focus in the Next Generation EU recovery plan are very male-dominated, consequently creating the risk that women will not receive the support they need to recover from this crisis. Therefore, the recovery plan is now linked to the Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025, an ambitious framework focused on advancing gender equality in Europe and beyond.

The Gender Equality Strategy focuses on 5 key areas:

  • Eliminating gender violence and stereotypes;

  • Thriving in a gender-equal economy;

  • Leading equally throughout society;

  • And promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment across the world.

The goal of the Commission is to make significant progress towards a gender-equal Europe by 2025 through specific policy objectives and actions. Actions towards equal opportunities include binding measures on pay transparency to ensure equal pay for men and women, promotion of equal uptake of family leave and flexible work arrangements to ensure an equal work-life balance, and improving access to qualitative and affordable care services through investments. Furthermore, actions towards equal social and economical participation include targets on gender balance in company boards and politics, as well as diversity in the workplace by addressing the gender gap in specific sectors. Lastly, the GES also focuses on gender mainstreaming, intersectionality, and funding. This thus forms a clear connection to the Next Generation EU funding program!

"In business, politics and society as a whole, we can only reach our full potential if we use all of our talent and diversity. Using only half of the population, half of the ideas or half of the energy is not good enough.” - Ursula von der Leyen (President of the European Commission)

A Youth Transition

A young girl is swimming under water, she has her eyes open and is smiling. A light blue triangle in the upper-right corner reads "NEXT GEN EU". Source:

Inclusion of youth and gender equality are interwoven and interrelated issues and should therefore be addressed simultaneously. Youth employment was already an issue before the Covid-19 pandemic, but the crisis significantly worsened the situation. Young people have trouble accessing education, finding jobs, coping with mental health issues, and overcoming inequalities both at school and on the labour market. Furthermore, young people lack political and economic leverage due to their specific position in society.

Investing in young people’s future is essential due to their pro-European stance and the role they play in a green, digital and inclusive transition. At the same time, youth often brings innovation and out-of-the-box thinking to social and economic challenges, including gender and other inequalities. They are also the frontrunners in the battle against climate and environmental change and will deal with the biggest environmental, social, and economic consequences of the unlimited economic growth of the past decades. Programs like Erasmus+ and the European Solidarity Corps are therefore essential in creating a generation that focuses on mobility, sustainability, inclusion, and solidarity.

The relation between youth inclusion and gender equality should be at the forefront of the Next Generation EU framework. The collaborative work “Gender Equality: An Eu-ASEAN Interregional Perspective on Policy Making” by the Young Initiative on Foreign Affairs and International Relations (IFAIR) pinpoints four important policy recommendations to improve this connection between youth and gender issues: gender-sensitive education to reduce culturally-embedded gender stereotypes; increasing engagement of men in gender equality strategies through traditional and technological tools; integrating gender mainstreaming into governmental planning and budget allocation; and promoting innovative, high-value start-ups for female entrepreneurs by facilitating access to skill training, funds, consulting, incubators, and competitions. The latter two recommendations are included in the Next Generation EU framework.

Next Generation EU wants to ingrain the green and digital transition in the DNA of the EU’s youth and employment policies. At least €22 billion is supposed to finance youth employment through a Youth Employment Support package. The package is built around four pillars:

  • Building a Bridge to Jobs for which youth (15-29) can sign up to receive an offer of employment, education, apprenticeship, or training within 4 months;

  • A Council Recommendation on vocational education and training in order to make systems more modern, attractive, flexible and fit for the digital and green economy;

  • A renewed stimulation for apprenticeships through national coalitions, SME support, and involvement of social partners;

  • And additional measures to support youth employment including employment and start-up incentives, capacity building, intercompany training centers, etc.

“Our youth deserve the very best opportunities possible to develop their full potential” - Nicolas Schmit (Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights)

A European Transition

Next Generation EU is first and foremost a recovery plan to restart the European economies and societies after the crisis caused by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The framework focuses on several elements, including digitalisation, innovation, sustainability, and inclusion, and is linked to the European Green Deal, the Gender Equality Strategy, and the Youth Employment Support package. The intersectionality of this framework is to be celebrated as it connects economic recovery to environmental sustainability, social inclusion, and gender equality. However, it will depend on the national recovery plans and the future implementation of these strategies if the billions of euros the Commission spends on this are worth it and actually create a better future for the Next Generation of Europe.

Author: Marisa De Schepper


If you are interested in discussing this topic in more detail, you can find more information on our Virtual Roundtable in September here:

Sources & More Info

About the Next Generation EU recovery plan:

About equality post-Covid and the halfofit-movement:

About the inclusion of youth:


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