EU discusses ways to tackle youth unemployment
BERLIN: Faced with record numbers of young people without jobs or much hope for the future, leaders from European Union states and representatives of their labour agencies convened in Berlin on Wednesday to commit themselves to taking concrete steps to get the Continent’s young people into jobs or training.
The summit was one of several that have focused on the issue in recent weeks, but leaders stressed that the commitments made Wednesday reflected how serious, and how united, member states are about taking action to create jobs or apprenticeships for the 6 million people aged 15 to 25 who are unemployed in the bloc.
Heading into the talks, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed that money alone would not alleviate the problem.
Each member state has to create structures and implement specific programs targeting young people, she said. Nevertheless, the leaders announced that the European Investment Bank would offer more funding that would increase the money available for unemployment projects to €24 billion, or US$31.1 billion.
“Today is a very important day in the fight against youth unemployment,” Merkel, who helped organise the talks, said after the final meeting.
Labour ministers, administrators and leaders of European states attended the discussions.
“To a certain extent, we want to put ourselves under pressure, because we know that with a conference such as that took place today we have awakened certain expectations,” Merkel said.
“We say very clearly that the problem cannot be solved from one day to the next,” she added, “but when we hold the next such meeting, there must be progress.”
Concrete measures planned for the short term include having countries set up a national labour market monitoring system, make all vacancies known publicly and increase the outreach and guidance services of labour agencies.
Dalia Grybauskaite, the president of Lithuania, which has taken over the EU’s rotating presidency, reminded member states that they could not just turn to Europe and expect to be helped. Instead, she said, they would have to take their own initiative to create jobs and training programs.
“All these questions that we are now trying to solve have been developing for some time,” Grybauskaite said. “We cannot have any illusions, and some governments making excuses to do nothing at home, thinking that Europe will help. Europe cannot solve everything.”
Experts say some of the hardest-hit countries have been too focused on the funding mechanisms and have not considered the structural and labour market reforms needed to get more people back to work.
Merkel has borne much of the blame for Europe’s economic woes since the outbreak of the crisis more than three years ago, for insisting that the Continent’s weakest members push through tough austerity measures in exchange for getting financial assistance.
Her image, draped with a Hitler-style mustache or embossed with a swastika or other Nazi symbols, has appeared on placards waved by angry protesters from Athens to Madrid.
Critics said the chancellor’s decision to call a summit aimed at tackling unemployment a little more than two months before she seeks a third term in office was an election tactic and came from a leader who during the debt crisis has called for heavily indebted countries to cut back even more on public spending.
But those attending the conference thanked the chancellor for the event, with President Frangois Hollande pledging to reconvene the group in France after several months to check on the progress made.
NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE