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Youth unemployment takes centerstage at summit in Berlin

At the invitation of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, EU leaders are gathering in Berlin to discuss ways to combat youth unemployment. However, critics say the proposed budget is far too small to make a real difference.

EU leaders are coming together Wednesday for a summit on youth unemployment at the behest of Chancellor Merkel. The labor ministers and the head of the employment agencies of all 28 EU member states are also expected to attend.

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Europe's lost generation

Last week, EU leaders agreed to put aside 6 billions euros ($7.8 billion) starting next year, on top of other funding, to fight youth unemployment. The aid package should be fully spent within two years in part on a program that will guarantee under-25s a job or further education training within four months of losing their job.

Across Europe in May more than 5.6 million under the age of 25 were without a job - an unemployment rate of 23.5 percent. In the eurozone, the rate is slightly higher at 24.4 percent.

The number of young people without jobs has assumed alarming proportions especially in southern Europe.

The highest rate is seen in Greece with 62.5 percent as of February. Spain is also struggling with 56.4 percent, followed by Portugal (42.5 percent) and Italy (40.5 percent).

Germany has the lowest rate with 7.5 percent, Austria follows with 8 percent and the Netherlands has the third lowest (10.6 percent).

However, critics say six billion euros in the fight against youth unemployment is grossly inadequate and a mere "drop in the bucket."

Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück called for significantly more money to combat youth unemployment. "We believe that in the next two years, about 20 to 21 billion euros are needed urgently,” he said in a German radio interview Wednesday.

Steinbrück said the German government has woken up far too late to the problem of youth unemployment, although it had already been addressed at a number of summits. The party has also criticized the motives of the summit as German national elections are only two months away.

hc/dr (AFP, dpa, epd)

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