Europe Faces a Maturing Threat ; Leaders Try to Address High Unemployment and Rising Anger among Youth

By Jack Ewing; Melissa Eddy | International Herald Tribune, May 14, 2013 | Go to article overview

Europe Faces a Maturing Threat ; Leaders Try to Address High Unemployment and Rising Anger among Youth


Jack Ewing; Melissa Eddy, International Herald Tribune


Officials are worried that huge numbers of jobless young people could become a lost generation and a source of social upheaval.

Record youth unemployment is emerging as the most urgent problem in the euro zone, if the political rhetoric of recent days is any measure. But leaders are struggling to come up with effective ways to prevent jobless young people in countries like Spain and Greece from becoming a lost generation and source of social upheaval.

One proposal, floated in a German news report Monday, would use a development bank owned by the European Union to funnel credit to companies that create jobs for young people in the euro zone, nearly a quarter of whom are without jobs.

Officials in Berlin quickly played down the report published in the online version of the Rheinische Post newspaper, based in Dusseldorf. But it is clear that policy makers are seriously worried that millions of frustrated young job seekers pose as much of a threat to the euro zone as excessive government debt or weak banks. The issue is likely to come up when finance and economy ministers of the 17 euro zone countries meet Tuesday in Brussels.

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, considers youth unemployment to be Europe's biggest challenge, her spokesman said Monday.

"The issue is on the agenda of every European meeting, whether at the ministerial level or among leaders," Steffen Seibert, Ms. Merkel's spokesman, said in Berlin.

Mr. Seibert's comments came a few days after Wolfgang Schauble, the German finance minister, warned that youth joblessness could undermine faith in European institutions.

"We will have to speed up in fighting youth unemployment, because otherwise we will lose the support, in a democratic way, in some populations of the European Union," Mr. Schauble said, shortly before meeting with his counterparts from the United States and other Group of 7 countries last weekend.

And Louis Gallois, former head of European Aeronautic Defense & Space and the French government's commissioner for investment, told a gathering at the German Finance Ministry in Berlin that more investment should be directed toward getting people back to work, if the European project was to succeed.

"Support to Europe is more and more limited because Europe is seen more and more by European citizens only as a constraint," Mr. Gallois said.

There is little doubt that youth unemployment is a grave problem in Europe, a result not only of weak economic growth but also of inflexible labor regulations that make it hard for newcomers to break into the work force. "If people don't work for several years after graduation it affects their whole lives," said Zsolt Darvas, a research fellow at Bruegel, a research organization in Brussels.

The jobless rate among Europeans aged 15 through 24 in the euro area was 24 percent in March, according to official figures, up from 22.5 percent a year earlier. In Greece, 59 percent of young people are unemployed, while in Spain 56 percent of youths are without work. …

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