“A united Europe cannot allow a generation to be sacrified,” French Labour Minister Michel Sapin said in an interview Italy’s Il Sole 24 daily on Friday.
He noted that “in every country, even those where the unemployment rate is lower such as Germany, the percentage of young people without work is double the national average.”
Sapin called on the four countries meeting in Rome to “react quickly, using the resources already available,” such as the €6 billion ($7.99 billion) earmarked for the battle against youth unemployment in the 2014-2020
European Union budget.
Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta, at 46 one of the youngest leaders in the EU, has said he hopes Friday’s talks will help “define a European employment policy, especially regarding young people.”
According to the latest EU statistics from Eurostat, of the 26.5 million people who were unemployed in the EU in April, 5.6 million of them were under 25 years old, which was 100,000 more than a year earlier.
The highest youth jobless rates were scored by Italy (40.5 percent), Portugal (42.5 percent), Spain (56.4 percent) and Greece (62.5 percent), reflecting how young people are paying the price for tough reforms imposed to restructure economies and reduce debt.
While 26.5 percent of young people were unemployed in France, Germany and Austria had markedly lower rates, with 7.5 and 8.0 percent of young people out of work.
Friday’s meeting is aimed at preparing the ground for the European Councils of June 27 and 28, at which youth unemployment will one of the key topics on the table, and a special meeting on the theme in Berlin on July 3.
The Rome talks will be followed by a meeting of European labour ministers in Madrid on June 19, according to a spokesman from the Spanish labour ministry, who said Spain “wants to promote credit for small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) and measures to help employ young people.”
The idea of focusing on SMEs as a key to creating work for the young was touted at the end of May as part of a French-German drive to open doors for young people.
German governmental sources said the ministers had adopted a “shared task on a European level regarding policies devoted to the labour market,” looking in particular at “margins for improvement on transparency, the exchange of information on best pratices, job centres.”
The spokesman for the European Commissioner for Employment Laszlo Andor called for the four countries to “coordinate implementation of the Youth Guarantee scheme as soon as possible.”
Funded by the European Union, the scheme stipulates that within four months of leaving education or losing work, under-25s would be assured a job offer, an apprenticeship or a traineeship.
Italian Labour Minister Enrico Giovannini said Letta has called for a “shock intervention” to tackle the crisis, with possible measures including tax cuts, changes to contracts and investment in job seeker services.
At the moment, Italy invests just €500 million ($666 million) a year in such services compared to five billion euros in France.