EU leaders wake up to youth jobs crisis

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Young people should be offered a good job within four months after leaving school, EU leaders will say at an informal summit today (30 January), according to a draft statement obtained by EURACTIV. The measure was criticised as empty rhetoric by European socialists.

Stimulating employment among young people is the first priority to spur economic growth in a recession-hit Europe, says the four-page document that EU leaders are expected to adopt later today.

“A particular effort needs to be made immediately to improve labour supply and reduce youth unemployment,” read the draft conclusions of today's EU summit in Brussels.

The statement was heavily criticised a "empty proposals" by the Party of European Socialists, which said the EU must invest more money to lift at least 2 million young people out of unemployment.

More than 5.5 million young people in the EU are unemployed – about 22.3% of the entire youth workforce, according to the latest statistics published in January. Spain is the hardest hit, with youth unemployment there edging close to 50%. And the trend does not seem to improve as the economic doldrums push more and more young Europeans to line up for social benefits.

A job within four months of leaving school

Trying to defuse this social time bomb, EU leaders will agree today to “stepping up efforts to promote people’s first work experience and their participation in the labour market.”

"Within four months of leaving school, young people should receive a good quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship,” says the draft summit statement.

EU leaders will stress the importance of traineeships, especially for early school leavers. Leaders will also push to facilitate youth mobility across borders, by stepping up the ‘Leonardo da Vinci’ programme, which allows youngsters to have a work experience abroad. The number of placements in foreign enterprises should be “substantially” increased, leaders will say.

A little-known youth employment strategy, adopted in 2010, set out a target to increase the proportion of young people in higher education from 31% in 2008 to 40% by 2020. It also sought to decrease the number of early school leavers from 15% to 10% over the same period. But the summit conclusions make no mention of that plan and does not propose any new measures to meet those targets.

Further proposals were presented by the European Commission in December to drive down youth unemployment, including making use of the European Social Fund, which still has €30 billion of funding available for such projects.

Single market and smaller businesses

Opening up protected segments in the services sector is also included in a list of job-friendly measures to be adopted as soon as possible. This should be done especially “by removing unjustified restrictions on professional services and the retail sector,” reads the draft summit statement.

The latter proposal seems to take inspiration from the efforts currently carried out by the Italian government led by Mario Monti, whose liberal ideas are widely represented in the joint text to be adopted by EU leaders.

Leaders will also reaffirm their commitment to complete the EU's single market.

By mid 2012, they commit to reach agreement on issues as diverse as product standardisation, energy efficiency, simplification of accounting requirements, dispute resolution, roaming and e-signatures. A deal on the simplification of public procurement rules should be reached by the end of 2012.

Quicker progress is also expected on divisive issues such as tax policy coordination, finding a solution to the long-awaited dispute over the common patent regime, bringing down further trade barriers and promoting e-commerce.

Finally, leaders will propose new measures to prevent a credit crunch in the banking sector from strangling EU businesses.

“National supervisors must ensure that bank recapitalisation does not lead to excessive deleveraging,” reads the text, as banks stand accused of using money provided by the European Central Bank only to increase their buffer capital rather than to support the economy.

As for small and medium-sized enterprises, leaders suggest “Better mobilising structural funds”; “strengthening the European Investment Bank support for SMEs; go ahead with project bonds; easier access to venture capital; enhancing the Microfinance Facility for smaller loans; and lower administrative burdens."

The president of European Youth Forum, Peter Matjaši?, welcomed the decision "to put youth employment high on the agenda" and urged President Herman Van Rompuy, through an open letter, to take the necessary steps towards that goal.

"We call upon the European Council to take all the necessary steps and measures to guarantee that no young person stays out of education, employment and training longer than four months. Long-term disengagement comes not only at a high cost for the individual but also as a great loss for our society at large. Give us a Youth Guarantee all over Europe!"

Denis Pennel, managing director of Eurociett, said: "EU leaders want to get young people into work within four months of leaving education. To have any chance of reaching this goal, member states must develop strong cooperation between public and private employment services. Europe needs to move beyond rhetoric and act to bring young people into work. For instance, there are still some unjustified restrictions on private employment services in many European countries that prohibits the industry from playing a full role in tackling this jobs crisis. Ensuring the full implementation of Agency Work Directive will encourage the creation of quality jobs in Europe."

Against a backdrop of growing unemployment, the EU has to revise once more its growth strategy.

The current strategy for sustainable growth and jobs, called 'Europe 2020', came in the midst of the worst economic crisis in decades.

One of the strategy's flagship initiatives is called 'Youth on the Move'. Its aim is to enhance the performance and international attractiveness of Europe’s higher education by promoting student and trainee mobility in order to improve the employment of young people.

The youth plan, outlined in September 2010, was criticised as a re-branding exercise of  existing EU initiatives that will largely rely on member states for implementation.

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