French President François Hollande will travel to Brussels for a European summit today with an appeal for an EU-wide “action plan” on youth unemployment that includes frontloading the bloc’s €6-billion youth employment initiative over the next two years rather than the next seven, the fund’s original time frame.
Struggling to keep with his electoral promise to reverse unemployment at home before year-end, Hollande will push EU leaders in Brussels for a quicker disbursement of the €6-billion fund to fight youth unemployment, agreed in February (see background).
“The French authorities are asking that the reflections materialise in the form of an action plan for youth employment,” said Thierry Repentin, French minister for European affairs, in an interview with euractiv.fr.
The plan, he said, should include the disbursement of the €6-billion Youth Employment Initiative over 2014-2015 rather than spreading the funds over the next seven-year budgetary period running from 2014 to 2020.
Draft conclusions from the summit suggest the call will be endorsed by EU leaders.
“In order for the Youth Employment Initiative to play its full role, the disbursement of the €6 billion allocated to it should take place during the first two years of the next multi-annual financial period,” read the draft summit conclusions, obtained by EURACTIV.
The objective is that first disbursements can be made as of 1 January for EU regions where youth unemployment is above 25%.
The text also invites EU countries to roll out a Youth Guarantee Scheme, which aims to give jobless youths a chance to further their education, or get a job, apprenticeship or traineeship within four months of being unemployed.
The issue has climbed to the top of the political agenda also in Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel is anxious to be seen helping the EU’s struggling southern member states, where German-inspired austerity measures to rein in public deficits have pushed youth unemployment to unprecedented levels.
Merkel plans to invite EU labour ministers to Berlin on 3 July to discuss unemployment.
However, critics say the €6 billion youth initiative, although well-intentioned, will lead to nowhere if it is not complemented by a deeper reform of the job market.
Juhani Risku, a former innovation director at Finnish telecoms giant Nokia, said traditional measures to tackle unemployment such as tax relief for companies, “are obviously not working” as firms use the extra money for other purposes, like R&D or marketing but not to recruit unqualified or unmotivated young people.
“The much-talked Youth Guarantee Scheme, for example, is only meant to help the drop-outs, the asymmetrical section of youth, and does not concern the majority,” who have undergone training but still cannot find work, Risku told EURACTIV in an interview.
“For these drop-outs you can’t just give money alone or beg companies to hire them," he said, voicing scepticism about the success of the EU scheme.
"Encouraging SMEs to take loans to hire young people they don’t need. Are they actually serious with this? We can’t keep on spending productive taxpayers’ money into random, inefficient and temporary measures hoping the problem will go away," Risku said.
Despite record unemployment in many countries, there are 1.7 million job vacancies in the EU, according to the latest issue of the European Vacancy Monitor, an EU labour market bulletin.
For Risku, this paradox of high unemployment and skills shortage can be resolved by bringing young people in contact with professionals who can give them work that will inspire them. What Europe needs, he said is "a kind of a framework to which young people can come under professional supervision”, learn new things and feel productive.
“Drop-outs are changemakers,” he said.