EU leaders debate youth jobs in Berlin ‘show summit’

Merkel Barroso Berlin July 2013_0.jpg

Twenty EU leaders have met in Berlin to debate how to spend €6 billion in EU funds to combat record youth unemployment, but a German Social Democrat leader dismissed the summit as a ploy by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

EU leaders and the heads of the European institutions flew to the German capital on Wednesday (3 July) to discuss short-term efforts to fight Europe’s rising youth unemployment.

At a European Council last week, EU leaders pledged €8 billion to fight Europe's rising youth unemployment, with €6 billion to be spent over the next two years.

The money comes under a new “Youth Guarantee” to give every young person a job, apprenticeship or education offer within four months of finishing school or becoming unemployed.

Figures from the EU’s statistics office, Eurostat, on Monday showed eurozone unemployment had reached a record high, 12.1%, with the youth the group worst affected at 23.9%.

In a speech in Berlin, José Manuel Barroso, the Commission president, said: “We all agree that the current level of unemployment of young people in Europe is simply unacceptable. In a number of European countries we are facing a true social emergency. This must stop. We need to give young people the hope and perspective they deserve wherever they live in Europe.”

Merkel convened the summit, which opposition leaders claim is an attempt to paper over the economic consequences of her austerity policies.

Andrea Nahles, general-secretary of the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) and manager of the centre-left party's campaign to unseat Merkel in a September election, said the chancellor had already held several "show summits" on a range of issues that yielded no results.

"I don't think Merkel's 49th summit will help," Nahles told Reuters. "She is now driving around Europe in an ambulance handing out band-aids for the injuries she has caused with her own policies."

She called for a change of German government and a European strategy to boost growth.

In Berlin, opponents of Merkel austerity staged a protest outside of the chancellory, with one banner reading "Europe's youngsters need more than Merkel's hot air". 

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said: "Let me thank Chancellor Merkel for hosting this important conference on how to tackle the perhaps most pressing problem facing Europe right now: youth unemployment".

"In Europe, we have a comprehensive strategy aiming at long-term economic growth and jobs. We should not lose direction. But we can of course modulate the pace. Exactly because we have a long-term strategy, we need actions for the short-term. We cannot just await strong economic growth to foster jobs for young people."

EU heads of states agreed in February to launch a €6 billion Youth Employment Initiative, with the aim of making it fully operational by 1 January 2014. At European Council on 27 June leaders decided to increase the fund to €8 billion, with €6 billion "frontloaded" over the first two years of the next multi-annual financial framework, the EU's long-term budget.

A Youth Guarantee scheme, introduced by each EU country according to its individual need, will apply to young people who are out of work for more than four months. It aims to give them a real chance to further their education, or get a job, apprenticeship or traineeship.

The EU has a 2020 target of 75% employment for the working-age population (20-64 years).

  • Autumn 2013: French President François Hollande to convene follow-up summit on youth employment "best practices".

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