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17th Feb 2019

EU leaders pledge €2bn extra for youth scheme

  • Hundreds youngsters from all over Europe protested in front of the German chancellery, demanding an end to austerity (Photo: Valentina Pop)

Seventeen EU leaders meeting in Berlin on Wednesday (3 July) pledged an extra €2bn billion for a youth employment scheme that so far was pegged at €6bn.

The Berlin gathering was a "three-in-one" summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at the concluding press conference, as it also included labour ministers, heads of employment agencies and the representatives of big EU-based companies - the European Roundtable of Industrialists.

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"It is not only about eight billion euro more for fighting youth unemployment, but also about the flexible use of EU structural funds, about funds from the European Investment Bank and the European Social Fund," Merkel said.

The €8 billion will start flowing on 1 January, but the European Investment Bank also pledged to start giving loans to small and medium-sized enterprises from August on in order to help them hire more young people.

This lending scheme will amount to another €6 billion per year for the next three years.

Merkel said the purpose of the gathering was to look at concrete examples of what works when governments - who have the sole responsibility for social and labour policies - try to reduce their youth unemployment rates.

A follow-up summit, to be hosted in autumn by French President Francois Hollande, will look at what has been achieved in implementing some of these "best practices." These range from a more practical-oriented education system to setting up employment offices in countries like Greece.

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, who chairs the rotating EU presidency, warned governments not to expect Europe to do their work.

"I want to be clear: We cannot create an illusion for some governments not to do anything and think Europe will help. There is no Europe, there are only member states responsible for social policies," the Lithuanian President said.

But for a few hundred young trade unionists from Spain, Portugal, Greece, Ireland, Poland and France, yet another high-level meeting is not making much difference for the 5.6 million unemployed youngsters in Europe.

"Europe's youngsters need more than Merkel's hot air," one banner read at the protest staged outside the chancellery on Wednesday.

Another told leaders to invest in young people, not banks, a reference to the bailed-out banks in Spain, that have now put thousands of people out in the streets because they have no jobs and cannot pay their mortgages.

"EU leaders are great communicators and PR agents, but this doesn't help us get a job," Sophie Binet from the French Confederation of Labour (CGT) told this website.

A trade unionist from Portugal, Bruno Teixeira, called it a "show-off summit" with the few billions spread over several years making no real difference to the unemployed in his country.

Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho also participated in the Berlin summit. According to an EU official who participated in the talks, Coelho briefed his fellow leaders on the political turmoil back home after two ministers resigned and pressure is mounting for him to follow suit.

"I think the PM will quit. He didn't do so today, just because he had to come here and see Merkel," Teixeira said.

"The government is totally isolated and nobody believes or trusts them anymore. For two years they have been cutting social policies, unemployment is growing, debt is growing, the budget is not balanced."

"Portugal was a fake poster child. Merkel had to present a country that supposedly worked with all the austerity measures, but it doesn't," Teixeira said.

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