June 27, 2013 / 11:37 PM / 4 years ago

UPDATE 1-Europe's 8-bln-euro youth jobless drive meets scepticism

4 Min Read

By Martin Santa and Noah Barkin 
    BRUSSELS, June 27 (Reuters) - European leaders agreed on
Thursday to set aside around 8 billion euros to combat youth
unemployment, even as they admitted that the labour market would
only sustainably improve once the crisis-hit region returns to
growth.
    More than three years of financial turmoil and belt
tightening has sent joblessness soaring across southern, central
and eastern Europe, with young people the hardest hit.
    Youth unemployment in Greece and Spain is hovering near 60
percent, while in Italy and Portugal it stands above 40 percent.
Overall, close to six million people between the ages of 15 and
24 are without a job, sparking talk of a "lost generation" and
fears of destabilising social unrest.
    At a summit, leaders agreed to disburse about 8 billion
euros - more than the 6 billion originally earmarked in February
- to fight youth joblessness, with the bulk available over a
two-year period starting in 2014 and the remainder becoming
available over the full seven years of the next EU budget.
    The funds will form the basis of a "Youth Guarantee" that
aims to provide a job, training or apprenticeship to young
people within four months of their leaving school, full-time
education or becoming unemployed.
    Economists have derided the scheme as a public relations
exercise, and even the leaders conceded the plan would have
little impact unless member states took action themselves.
    "It's a lot of money, but of course everybody must
understand that the main responsibility lies in the hands of
governments, and the tools must be used or taken at the national
level," said Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen. "European
solutions can partially help, but it is not the main story."
    Germany, which as the bloc's biggest economy has led the
response to the crisis, has been particularly aggressive in
pushing the jobs plan, concerned that it might get blamed for
any jobless-related social unrest.HYPOCRISY  
    Chancellor Angela Merkel and her allies in Europe have
insisted on deep spending cuts in struggling southern countries
in return for aid. This has brought down deficits but also
aggravated recessions and sent unemployment soaring.
    Next week Merkel, who faces an election in September, will
be hosting a youth unemployment conference in Berlin, at which
labour ministers and leaders from across the bloc will exchange
information on "best practices" for fighting joblessness.
    In a speech in the German parliament hours before the summit
began, Peer Steinbrueck, her centre-left challenger in the
looming vote accused Merkel of hypocrisy for preaching austerity
across Europe for years, only to change tack before the election
and portray herself as a friend of the bloc's jobless.
    Brussels-based think tank Bruegel said the EU was wrong to
focus specifically on youth unemployment instead of measures to
boost growth.
    "Unfortunately simply targeting measures at young people is
unlikely to make much difference to the problem," said Bruegel
economist Andre Sapir.     
    "If Europe is serious about preventing a lost decade for its
citizens and a lost generation of jobless youth, it must act
soon with far more potent measures than simply a youth guarantee
scheme."
    Under the EU scheme, funds would be channeled to regions
where youth unemployment is above 25 percent. It also foresees
new efforts to promote the mobility of young job-seekers and the
introduction of apprenticeships and work-based learning of the
kind seen in Germany and Austria.
    Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said youth unemployment
in his country was causing "incredible problems" for social
cohesion.
    "What we need to do here, is to think out of the box,
inventively, find solutions, those solutions should be drastic
measures, they should be drastic measures that will take place
immediately," he said.

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