Leaders agree new package to promote employment


PLANNING GROWTH:EUROPEAN LEADERS have agreed a three-pronged approach to promote growth and employment throughout the EU – by tackling youth employment, completing the single market, and through better funding of small and medium enterprises.

A discussion on a growth and jobs strategy was the second major theme of yesterday’s meeting of the 27 leaders.

However, it was emphasised that any such stimulus programme to boost employment and growth would have to be done “within agreed budget ceilings”.

The implication is that there will be limited scope to pursue such policies within the very tight rules of the fiscal compact also agreed at yesterday’s meeting.

“It’s a paradox you might say, or a contradiction,” said a senior diplomatic source yesterday. “Leaders are saying, yes you have to cut but you have to make sure you are not cutting away what can [stimulate] growth.” In a statement issued after the EU Council meeting, it was acknowledged that while efforts were being made to address budgetary imbalances, more effort was needed to promote growth and employment.

“There are no quick fixes. Our action must be determined, persistent and broad-based. We must do more to get Europe out of the crisis,” it said.

The leaders said the stabilisation measures were necessary but also accepted they were not in themselves sufficient, that growth strategies needed to go hand-in-hand with “smart” fiscal consolidation. “We have to modernise our economies and strengthen our competitiveness to secure a sustainable growth.”

Yesterday’s meeting focused on the three immediate priorities of youth joblessness, the common market and SMEs, while leaving wider decisions on economic and employment policies – especially the prospects for “green growth” – until the March summit.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny welcomed the focus on those three areas.

Speaking to reporters in advance of the meeting he said: “I’m glad the council have recognised this and President Herman von Rompuy has commissioned a number of papers and reports on it. I would like to see this kept central to the European Council agenda from here on,” he said.

The statement noted that 23 million people were unemployed in Europe today. It was agreed that each country would now set out a national jobs plan. Among the steps proposed are a concrete offer of a job or training within four months of finishing education; a massive increase in apprenticeships; and increasing job mobility across borders.

EU funds will also be redirected to states with the highest youth unemployment levels.

On completing the single market, the leaders agreed on increased standardisation and simplification of rules on energy efficiency, accounting requirements and public procurement. E-commerce will also become a priority, as will efforts to fully use the digital economy and modernise the EU’s copyright regime.

Leaders also expressed concerns about the potential of the credit crunch “severely limiting the ability of enterprises to grow and create jobs”.

It cautions against bank recapitalisation not causing deleveraging by banks that would “negatively impact on financing of the economy”.

A number of “urgent measures” have been agreed, including speeding up of EU structural funds programmes and seeing if private financing can be tapped for key infrastructural projects within the EU.