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Crisis-hit Spain, Portugal back youth jobs plan

Recession-hit Spain and Portugal said Monday they welcomed “any plan” to fight youth unemployment, after reports that European powers planned to invest billions in getting young people back to work.

“Any initiative in favour of youth employment has my support,” Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told a news conference alongside his Portuguese counterpart Pedro Passos Coelho after a bilateral summit.

Coelho concurred, saying: “Unemployment among the young is a tragedy for our two countries.”

German newspaper Rheinische Post earlier reported that France and Germany planned to launch this month a “New Deal for Europe” against youth unemployment, through credits for companies.

Under the initiative, billions of euros (dollars) in loans from the European Investment Bank would be used to promote education, training and job placements for young people, the newspaper said.

The Spanish and Portuguese leaders said they had not heard of the plan before Monday’s report.

In Spain the unemployment rate among those aged 16 to 24 was 57.22 percent in the first quarter of 2013. In Portugal the rate was 42.1 percent.

Rajoy, whose conservative government has imposed tough economic measures to fix the public finances, said boosting jobs for the young should be first among three top priorities for the European Union, after creating a banking union and easing credit flows to businesses and families.