EU leaders agree additional €2bn in funding to tackle youth unemployment
Berlin summit agrees on proposals EU members ‘should consider implementing’
A one-day meeting in Berlin yesterday attended by 16 EU leaders agreed five pages of proposals to drive down jobless rates. Photograph: Getty Images
Europe’s political and institutional leaders meeting in Berlin yesterday agreed an additional €2 billion in funding and promised better institutional co-ordination to fight youth unemployment across the continent.
A one-day Berlin meeting attended by 16 EU leaders and chaired by German chancellor Angela Merkel agreed five pages of proposals that they “should consider implementing” to drive down jobless rates that have soared to more than 50 per cent in Greece and Spain.
Outside the Berlin chancellery, union members from all over Europe’s crisis regions, including Ireland, waved banners that read: “Stop talking, act now”.
The meeting concluded with agreement for governments to compile their own “country reports” for another meeting in Paris in November, identifying “best practice” to get young people back to work based on national circumstances.
Dr Merkel’s political opponents attacked the meeting as an exercise in “aktionismus” – the German term for appearing to be doing something – to get her across September’s general election line. Leaders vowed to assign additional funding to the problem, raising the financial commitment from €6 billion to €8 billion.
The European Investment Bank (EIB) committed to making €6 billion available in loans annually for the next three years, starting from next month, to help cash-starved companies start hiring again.
Three days after Ireland handed over the EU presidency to Lithuania, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he was pleased to see jobs on the European agenda. “This was always a priority of Ireland’s presidency,” he said. “There was an expression by lot of people at the table for a swift, effective action.”
At the post-meeting press conference Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite warned EU member states not to think “Europe” could solve problems in the labour market, which remained their national responsibility. “These [jobless] questions were there a long time ago, most of us underestimated the problem,” said Ms Grybauskaite. She promised to use Lithuania’s presidency to get MEP backing for front-loading of financial resources promised by leaders.
European parliament president Martin Schulz agreed that it was “not on” to blame Europe for national problems.
“The challenge we have never had before in the past is that an entire generation, perhaps the best qualified ever, is feeling cut out of life,” he said.
“That can lead to a break in the system and would be a catastrophic development.”
For all the lack of political commitment yesterday, European Council president Herman Van Rompuy indicated that leaders have agreed the need to prioritise the short-term challenge of getting young people back to work by rethinking long-term fiscal and banking reforms. The plan, he insisted was “not to change direction but modulate the pace”.
At a counter-summit organised by Germany’s union federation (DGB) in the shadow of the chancellery, youth representatives demanded additional financial and administrative assistance for crisis countries and binding Europe-wide standards for internships.
“We have the right to a job in our own country, a right to not have precarious employment, a right to not emigrate,“said Barry Gorman, representing Ictu’s youth wing. Asked about an additional €6 billion earmarked for youth unemployment, he replied: “If a bank in Ireland pulls €7 billion out of its arse, €6 billion from all of Europe is not a lot.”
DGB head Michael Sommer said he warned Dr Merkel that failure to act risked social cohesion in Europe. “It is a scandal that people say banks are system relevant but who is not more relevant for our system than our young people, with one in four out of work?”
European Commission president José Manuel Barroso said he did not see any danger to EU-US free trade talks as a result of the recent surveillance controversy.