EU leaders urge swift response to youth employment crisis
Europe's leaders on Tuesday put urgency into the search for a solution to high youth unemployment at a meeting in Paris on what is seen as the continent's most pressing challenge.
"What is important is to move quickly," stressed French President Francois Hollande, who hosted heads of state or government from 24 of the EU's 28 member states at the event.
The conference followed a July summit in Berlin initiated by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who called youth unemployment "perhaps the most pressing problem facing Europe".
She warned that the continent faced the emergence of a "lost generation", triggering a raft of measures aimed at reversing the trend.
Hollande said a "youth guarantee" scheme, whereby young people are given jobs, further education or training within four months of leaving school, would be put in place in the next two years.
To speed up the process, all member states who send in their plans for the scheme's implementation before the end of the year can "access the necessary financing from January 1".
European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said resources for the scheme depended on member states. "We need something concrete, we need fast results," he said.
According to the European Commission's latest statistics, the EU-wide youth joblessness rate stands at 23.5 percent. A total of 7.5 million aged 15-24 are not in work, education or training.
The sting of the crisis is felt differently across the bloc. The youth unemployment rate is pinned down at 7.7 percent in Europe's healthiest economy Germany, but soaring past 50 percent in debt-crippled southern countries such as Greece or Spain.
EU members have pledged 12 billion euros ($16 billion) over the next two years while the European Investment Bank and European Social Fund plan to spend similar amounts.
The focus on training can help Europe's youth become more employable but many observers argue no dramatic changes in joblessness statistics can be expected without economic growth.
"Without growth, there will be no jobs for the youth. Politics doesn't create jobs, business creates jobs," said Merkel.
Hollande, who is grappling with record-low popularity ratings, had made youth employment one of his mandate's top priorities. He has vowed a return to employment growth by year's end, but that looks an increasingly unlikely prospect.
"In 2014 unemployment will unfortunately remain too high, but there is perspective, there is hope," said European Council president Herman Van Rompuy.
Despite the new sense of urgency among the EU's leaders, critics say that Brussels' moves to ease the crisis often lack boldness and tend to rely too heavily on German policies that are not easily replicated.
© 2013 AFP