EU leaders commit to youth employment and training targets

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The EU summit largely limited itself to re-confirming existing Lisbon targets, but did introduce new goals on youth employment. 

The following points were agreed at the summit:

Unemployment: Against the backdrop of “intensified competition from abroad, an ageing population, higher energy prices and the need to safeguard energy security,” the summit stated that the EU is “expected to create six million new jobs during the three-year period 2005-2007, helping to reduce unemployment from a peak of 9% at the end of 2004 by roughly 1% in 2007”.

The European Council stressed that  “efforts should be intensified to reduce early school leaving to 10% and to ensure that at least 85% of 22 year olds should have completed upper secondary education. By the end of 2007 every young person who has left school and is unemployed should be offered a job, apprenticeship, additional training or other employability measure within six months, and within no more than 4 months by 2010.”

SME’s: The European Council acknowledged the importance of creating “a more favourable business environment, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)” and called for “a regulatory environment that is simple, transparent and easy to apply.”

Entrepreneurship: “The member states should establish, by 2007, a one-stop-shop, or arrangements with equivalent effect, for setting up a company.” The objective is being able to do this “within one week anywhere in the EU by the end of 2007.”

Member States were encouraged to “strengthen respective measures, including through entrepreneurship education and training at the appropriate level of education.”

The services directive: The European Parliament’s recent vote at first reading was welcomed. The European Council took “good note of the Commission’s intention to base the amending proposal largely on the outcome of the European Parliament’s first reading and [expressed] the hope that the institutions will be able to swiftly conclude the legislative process.”

Energy sections take overs: Tensions over French, Spanish and Polish efforts to keep out rival companies from other EU member states were noticeable in their impact on the mood at the sidelines of the summit without formally being on the agenda.  

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said that the Lisbon strategy is "now up and running. Now the focus is on implementation." 

UK PM Tony Blair said, "I think it would be somewhat bold to say that the argument for economic liberalism has been won everywhere. On the other hand, I don't think there's any question about the direction of travel. There is a big debate on economic patriotism, a healthy debate which is being won by those who favour more open markets."

Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed great satisfaction with the debate on the services directive, which she called a "breakthrough". The recent vote in the EP was "a good and wise compromise".  

Hans-Werner Müller, Secretary General of UEAPME, the European SME employers’ organisation, said "we appreciate the efforts made by the European Council, particularly regarding issues such as the assessment of administrative costs, the reduction of compliance costs and the speeding up of procedures. On the other hand, the decisions taken today will change very little for the single entrepreneur, if they are not transferred into a strong set of concrete measures for growth and jobs in Europe.”

The annual Lisbon exercise of checking progress on the road towards the EU becoming the world's most competitive knowledge-based economy took place at the EU summit on 23-24 March.

This was the first examination of the plan since the EU decided to re-focus the Lisbon-agenda in 2005. But the European Council largely avoided using harsh words on the varying quality of the different national reform programmes (NRPs). 

There was no naming and shaming. The closest the EU leaders came to controversy was pointing to "the Commission's view that some NRPs could include more specific targets and timetables and that they could also be more detailed as concerns competition and removing obstacles to market access." 

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