At best a welcome recognition of Europe’s jobs crisis

Ideological, cultural and economic differences make agreement on solutions to youth unemployment a huge challenge

French president Francois Hollande and German chancellor Angela Merkel at the  summit  to address European youth unemployment in Berlin. Photograph: Gregor Fischer/Getty Images

French president Francois Hollande and German chancellor Angela Merkel at the summit to address European youth unemployment in Berlin. Photograph: Gregor Fischer/Getty Images

Thu, Jul 4, 2013, 01:00


The political bandwagon was full to capacity by the time it rolled into the press room of the Berlin chancellery yesterday evening.

After their “youth employment” summit yesterday Chancellor Merkel and her labour minister were joined by no less than five European presidents: of the European Council, commission, parliament as well as heads of state from France and Lithuania – which inherited the EU presidency from Ireland on July 1st.

While the magnificent seven presented 36 pages of proposals filled with “shoulds” and a promise to “evaluate progress” in November, young protestors outside the chancellery gates warned of a a “social emergency” if 5.5 million young Europeans under 25 remain jobless.


Merkel motivation
Merkel’s staff bristle at the suggestion that yesterday’s event was a publicity stunt for their boss ahead of September’s general election. Regardless of the lady’s motivation, Berlin visitors viewed the day out as belated but welcome recognition of Europe’s jobs crisis – one Germany does not immediately face. Yesterday’s buzzword – “best practice” – was, at best, an acknowledgement that EU member states have much to learn from each other on getting young people back to work.

At worst, it made virtue out of necessity: national governments, not EU institutions, retain sole responsibility for the labour market and all its problems. As reports in this newspaper have shown in recent days, the jobless disease is rife but the causes are as varied as the cures being proposed – by national governments and their national labour agencies.

While Germany, for instance, has a centralised labour agency, Spain’s regions are largely autonomous. In Ireland’s case, it will be autumn before we see the light from Solas and the end of Fás.

Finding the right person to talk to is a challenge. Even if they make contact to agree a joint diagnosis of the problem, ideological, cultural and economic differences make inter-government agreement on solutions a huge challenge.

While many crisis countries want to see more EU money ringfenced for emergency programmes, Berlin and its non-crisis allies say they have no interest in bankrolling inefficient labour markets and demand root canal work.


Generation undermined
Union youth leaders warned in Berlin that an entire generation’s trust in the European ideal is being undermined, sending many into the arms of political extremists. As the political bandwagon rolled off into the summer holidays, it fell to European Parliament president Martin Schulz to remind EU leaders of the words of German national poet Goethe: “The fate of every society and era depend on the people under 25.”