EU leaders have gathered in Brussels to discuss budget policies, with some seeking room for maneuver on austerity to allow a greater emphasis on growth. Protesters outside the venue also urged a change in strategy.
There were signs ahead of the summit on Thursday that the possibility of greater "wiggle room" on austerity - to allow for more emphasis on growth and creating employment - would be up for discussion. The summit opened at 5:30 p.m. local time.
Though Germany, the European Union's strongest economy, has long taken a hard line on austerity, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on her arrival that youth unemployment should be the focus of the two-day summmit.
Merkel said that funds to reduce youth unemployment across the EU were already in place, but that they needed to be earmarked better.
"The money is there and now the money must go to people so that young people in Europe can get jobs," the chancellor said.
With unemployment at 11.9 percent across the 17 eurozone states, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said that the job situation would need to be addressed.
"No leader can be happy with the situation where 26 million people are out of work in the European Union," Kenny said. "That is why we are here."
‘No blind eye'
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy also highlighted the need to act, with the unemployment rate among young people exceeding 55 percent in Greece and Spain.
"We cannot turn a blind eye to the social emergency in some of our countries," Van Rompuy said.
Thousands of protesters rallied outside the EU headquarters, where the summit was taking place. Among those taking part in the protest were factory employees, teachers, students and union activists from countries including Belgium, Britain, France and Germany.
A statement from the European Trade Union Confederation, which organized the rally, urged a "change of direction."
"Austerity is not working," said the confederation in a statement. "It is driving the economy into recession and forcing the most vulnerable citizens into poverty."
rc/pfd (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)