With youth unemployment at critical levels, particularly in the crisis-hit Mediterranean countries, the European Union is preparing a 6-billion-euro ($8-billion) package to address the problem. The money will be used to help young people find jobs or vocational training. It follows an announcement earlier this year from German Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen that the EU planned to combat the problem.
Complicating the matter, there is a serious imbalance in the youth employment problem within the 28-member bloc: in northern Europe vocational training programs and employers are having trouble finding suitable candidates at the same time that young people in southern Europe are desperately looking for work.
The aid program is intended to address this disparity. "Not only the job placement must be improved, language classes also need to be provided and travel costs financed so that young jobseekers can introduce themselves to future employers and get started," von der Leyen said.
Creating a future
There are several ways the money can be spent to fight youth unemployment. For example, it can be used to subsidize employee wages or social-security costs. Start-up entrepreneurs could be supported with credits and consultation. Or the money could be invested in better vocational training, an area in which some countries are weak.
Here, Germany's highly regarded dual education and training system, in which apprentices continue their education while gaining hands-on experience, could serve as a model.
"We are trying to expand the dual system to companies with locations all over Europe," said Max Uebe, head of the European Commission's office for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion. "We are trying to export this successful system into countries with no or little experience with it."
"Money from Brussels should be focused on the affected regions"
Six billion euros might sound like a lot, but it translates to only 800 euros per person if the money is shared evenly among the EU's 7.5 million young people under 25 years who are not attending school, university or vocational training. But the money will only go to regions where the youth unemployment rate is above 25 percent.
This European Commission proposal was highly contentious. The parliament wanted to lower the rate to 20 percent so that more regions could have benefited. "But that would have meant less money for the young people in the worst-hit regions. Now we are pleased that the parliament agreed on the 25 percent," Uebe said.
The money from Brussels will thus go to the EU's crisis-hit southern periphery: to Spain, Greece and Portugal. Germany, Denmark and Austria will not get anything.
Because the aid package is financed jointly by the European Social Fund and the EU Financial Framework, the member states will ultimately decide which projects will be supported. Nadja Hirsch, member of the European Parliament for Germany's Free Democrats (FDP), said "I think it is more useful to invest the money in sustainable structures than in supporting single projects with a short-term effect."
By opening up opportunities beyond their home countries, the European employment market offers young people opportunities to find the right job. But the barriers to working abroad are still very high - especially for 18- to 25-year-olds. It is not always easy to move to a faraway country with a different language and culture. And this is something that no amount of money from Brussels is likely to change.