Berlin Summit Merkel Tackles Youth Unemployment

Youth unemployment has emerged as one of the most dramatic results of the ongoing economic crisis in Europe. Chancellor Merkel has invited EU leaders to Berlin on Wednesday to discuss the issue. But critics say that more money must be made available to fight the problem.
Greece has the highest youth unemployment rate in the EU, at 62.5 percent as of February.

Greece has the highest youth unemployment rate in the EU, at 62.5 percent as of February.

Foto: ARIS MESSINIS/ AFP

European Union leaders are meeting today in Berlin on Chancellor Angela Merkel's invitation for a summit on youth unemployment. With youth unemployment in the euro zone at a record high of above 23.5 percent, the leaders and labor ministers of more than 20 EU nations will gather in the German capital on Wednesday.

The aim of the summit is to discuss the most efficient way to spend the €6 billion ($7.8 billion) that EU leaders have allocated to fight youth unemployment  in 2014 and 2015. More than 5.6 million Europeans under the age of 25 are out of work. In Southern Europe, joblessness was already a problem before the euro crisis. It has dramatically worsened  as the region has sunk into recession.

"We must not allow there to be a lost generation," said Chancellor Merkel  ahead of the summit in an interview  with six European newspapers this week. Youth unemployment, she added, is "perhaps the most pressing problem facing Europe at the present time.... It is highly regrettable that parts of the economic elite assume so little responsibility for the deplorable situation."

Merkel herself has been blamed  for worsening the problem by insisting on tough austerity measures, including spending cuts and layoffs, in debt-plagued countries like Spain and Greece. In recent months, she has shifted her rhetoric , focusing instead on the need for growth and jobs.

The German Model?

Merkel hopes Germany can be used as a model: both its labor market  reforms and its dual training system -- which combines classroom instruction with on-the-job training -- have contributed to the country having the lowest youth unemployment rate in the European Union, at 7.5 percent.

"We have to give these young people an answer -- that they have prospects in Europe -- and we have to do it now," said German Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen.

Critics, however, think the €6 billion earmarked last week are woefully innadequate to combat the problem. "We believe that in the next two years, about €20 to 21 billion are needed urgently," said Peer Steinbrück, Merkel's center-left challenger in fall elections, in a radio interview on Wednesday.

chw -- with wire reports
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