The labour and finance ministers of several European countries warned of dire consequences for the continent Tuesday if more is not done to alleviate the staggering rates of unemployment among Europe's youth.
The jobs crisis is affecting almost six million young people who are out of work, with countries like Greece and Spain experiencing rates of youth unemployment of more than 50 per cent. The European Union-wide unemployment rate for those between age 15 and 24 stood at 23.5 per cent as of the end of March, compared to 10.9 per cent for the general population.
Youth between 16 and 24 in the U.S. (which tracks a slightly different age range) is 16.1 per cent, by comparison. In Greece, the youth unemployment rate is 59 per cent and in Spain it's 55 per cent.
Labour and finance ministers from France, Germany and Spain published an editorial in several European newspapers calling for a "New Deal for Europe " in the spirit of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Depression-era initiative that helped lift a generation out of poverty and joblessness through government-funded projects.
"Europe can't afford to sacrifice an entire generation," they wrote.
The high rate of unemployment among young people poses a "social, economic and political threat" that risks undermining the solidarity that has defined post-war Europe, the ministers said.
Joblessness threatens European solidarity
If more is not done to find jobs for youth, "an entire generation risks turning its back on Europe and succumbing to the siren songs of populism and extremism," the ministers wrote.
The politicians proposed a Europe-wide strategy to tackle unemployment that would focus on getting young people into the job market quickly, making them more mobile in job markets across Europe and supporting small and medium-sized businesses that create jobs for the younger generation.
The initiative will be funded in part by some of the 60 billion euros (about $80 billion) worth of loans at favourable interest rates that the European Investment Bank will make available between now and 2015, with some of that money earmarked specifically for small and medium-sized businesses.
The European Council also approved an additional 6 billion euros (about $8 billion) over five years for youth employment initiatives this February.
But the ministers said they would also like to see the bank set up special lines of credit for small businesses that create jobs for young people.
"These must be deployed quickly and efficiently in a targeted, co-ordinated manner without bureaucratic barriers," they wrote.
Expand apprenticeships, make workers more mobile
Worker mobility and targeted apprenticeships that teach specific skills that businesses need must be encouraged through more funding and expansion of initiatives like the Erasmus student exchange program and EURES, which connects employers and job seekers across Europe, the ministers said.
Countries where unemployment rates are low must not be afraid to expand such programs and bring in apprentices from countries where the job shortage is more acute, they said.
The ministers also proposed a sort of jobs guarantee for youth that would see the European Council commit to ensuring that anyone under the age of 25 would be offered a good quality job, additional educational training, an apprenticeship or an internship within four months of finishing school or losing their job.
Labour and finance ministers from Germany, France, Italy and Spain also met at a conference in Paris on Tuesday to discuss these and other measures to alleviate the unemployment crisis.
"The situation is urgent," French President François Hollande said in his keynote address to the conference at the Berggruen Institute on Governance
He called today's youth the "post-crisis generation," referring to the 2008 financial crisis responsible for the current wave of unemployment, and said they will "forever after hold today's government responsible for their plight."
"Imagine all of the hatred, the anger … we're talking about a complete breakdown of identifying with Europe," he said. "It's the idea of Europe that is being challenged."
He called on his fellow politicians to do for today's generation what was done for Hollande's post-war generation.
"Europe gave us the support we needed … the hope that we could get a job after finishing school and succeed in life," Hollande said in his address. "Can we be responsible for depriving today's generation of this type of hope?"
Labour ministers of all 27 EU member countries will meet in Berlin in July to further discuss the specifics of the youth employment plan.