Ireland can avail of a €200 million fund to create a youth jobs guarantee over the next two years, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said following an EU summit on youth employment.
Under the guarantee, no unemployed young person will be allowed to go longer than four months without a job offer or training.
Asked whether the four-month deadline might have to be extended because of insufficient funds and inadequate training capacity, Mr Kenny said “The plan will be ready (next month) and we will live up to the four-month commitment. We are absolutely focused on this.”
The Taoiseach said that approximately €200 million would available over the next two years, of which about one third would be contributed by Ireland. José Manuel Barroso, the president of the EU Commission, had promised their would be no delay in making the money available.
Mr Kenny said Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton, who attended the summit with him, would present the plan. It will be discussed in the Dáil before the end of December “and we’ll proceed to implement it.”
Regarding Ireland's pending decision on whether to apply for a post-bailout line of credit, Mr Kenny said he briefed "at least eight of ten" of the 24 leaders at the summit, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
He told them the government was still consulting people and would make its decision before December 15th.
“The leaders were happy to be updated on that.”
In his speech in the Élysée Palace, Mr Kenny stressed the importance of the digital economy.
“I’d like to emphasise the enormous potential of the digital economy,” he said, quoting an EU Commission report saying it grows “at seven times the rate of the rest of the economy.”
The last EU Council talked about “creating a digital single market” and acknowledged that information and communication technology could create 900,000 jobs by 2015, Mr Kenny continued.
“Upskilling our young jobseekers to fill in demand digital roles is a win-win for the EU economy. It will kick-start young careers. It will spawn new fast-growing tech companies.”
Joan Burton placed the emphasis elsewhere, on learning from the experience of Austria - “small like us” - and Germany, which have the lowest youth unemployment in the EU. She praised their “dual system” where training and education are combined with on-the-job work experience.
Asked if the recent cut in the jobseeker’s allowance, from €188 to € 100 a week, indicated a shortfall in funds for Ireland’s 65,000 unemployed young people, Ms Burton said training, education and in-work experience were “a much better investment… rather than have young people shifting onto the dole and being left there without much hope for themselves or their family.”
Youth unemployment in Ireland is almost 30 per cent, with more than 65,000 young people out of work.
Mr Kenny said young people who become long-term unemployed “are at greatest risk of becoming permanently disengaged from the workforce”.
He said Ireland’s jobs strategy had two elements; to become more competitive and to educate and train the young unemployed.
The Taoiseach concluded his remarks at the summit on a historical note.
"I went to Enniskillen to lay a wreath at the cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday," he said. "A hundred years ago, Europe failed its young people. In a time of peace and opportunity, let us not fail them on this occasion."
After the European Central Bank surprised markets last week with an interest-rate cut to aid economic growth, European leaders are keen to show that they're taking action to deal with of the region's most open wounds.
Mr Letta has described youth joblessness as the "true nightmare" of Italy, which this week may announce a ninth straight quarter of economic contraction.
In Mr Letta’s country, the euro-region’s third-biggest economy, youth unemployment rose to a record 40.4 per cent in September, evidence of the harsh environment for new workforce entrants that dominates southern Europe.
"In the short term, despite the government's efforts, we expect unemployment to remain around the current level" in Italy, said Nicola Zambli, an economist for Monte dei Paschi di Siena.
He cited the country's "difficult" situation and its prospects of political instability. In Greece, where the jobless rate of 27.6 per cent is the highest in the euro area, European Union data show the youth unemployment rate to have been at 57.3 per cent in July.
Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras said last week that youth unemployment is one of the biggest problems of southern Europe, and that participants in today's summit are trying to "grab the bull by the horns."
At the leaders’ last youth-unemployment summit in Berlin on July 3rd, Ms Merkel urged member states to boost employment among the young without depending on aid money.
The group cited €8 billion in aid already earmarked in the European Union’s 2014-2020 budget.
“We have to say clearly that this problem can’t be solved from one day to the next,” Ms Merkel said in July.
Additional reporting: Bloomberg