German Chancellor Angela Merkel hosts European leaders on Wednesday in a bid to tackle sky-high youth unemployment which has left more than half of under 25-year-olds out of work in several southern countries of the eurozone.
Merkel, who faces elections this year, has repeatedly warned of the threat of a “lost generation” in Greece, Spain, Italy and elsewhere even as her critics at home and abroad charge that it is her push for austerity that worsened the crisis.
Youths without jobs constitute “perhaps the most pressing problem facing Europe”, she warned in a newspaper interview on the eve of the meeting.
“When things start to become dysfunctional, it is the job of politicians to remedy the situation.”
The meeting of some 20 heads of state and government comes three days after data showed the eurozone’s overall jobless rate rose back to a previous record-high of 12.1 percent in May, and to 23.8 percent for under-25s.
Merkel, with French President Francois Hollande and other leaders and ministers, was to discuss how to dole out eight billion euros ($10.4 billion) for EU initiatives to help get almost six million jobless young people into work.
Critics charge that the amount is a drop in the ocean given the scale of the problem, and European trade union leaders were to hold an alternative event near the chancellery in the capital of Europe’s biggest economy.
“It wouldn’t be the first time the chancellor holds a summit that leads nowhere,” said Annelie Buntenbach, a board member of the German trade union federation DGB.
“We fear an event for show because the young people whom this is all about won’t even have a voice at the summit.”
For Merkel, the event comes in an election year, with her conservative party leading in the polls ahead of the September 22 vote but open to attack on the eurozone crisis from the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD).
Her chief SPD rival Peer Steinbrueck last week heaped blame on Merkel, calling the youth jobless crisis the fallout from her “one-sided” focus on austerity, which had led to a “vicious circle of saving and growth setbacks”.
Also at the meeting will be 28 labor ministers and heads of national employment services as well as EU President Herman Van Rompuy and the chief of the European Investment Bank.
The focus will be “concrete measures”, “positive examples” and “an exchange of best practices” to create jobs for young people, said German officials who added that the available funds should be well targeted and quickly spent.
The EU executive in February announced a seven-year plan to guarantee all young people either a job, training, further education or an internship within four months of leaving school.
Germany, with a low youth unemployment rate of 7.6 percent, will tout its so-called dual system that combines apprenticeships with vocational education, and which it aims to export under agreements with Spain and Portugal.
Merkel said last week that Austria, the Netherlands and Denmark also have experience to share on their labor and training systems.