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EU governments and heads of state in Brussels want to get an initiative against youth unemployment off the ground. But before that, they'll have to agree on a budget. They did succeed - at the last minute.
Nearly six million young people in the European Union are unemployed as a result of several years of crisis, recession and austerity. EU governments and heads of state see in this not only a need for those youth, but also as a powder keg waiting to blow.
Upon his arrival in Brussels, Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker said: "We cannot turn a blind eye to how an entire generation remains stuck on their starting blocks." In no country is the situation as dire as in Greece. Greek governmental head Antonis Samaras called for immediate "drastic measures."
Training guarantee for all youth
Help appears to be on its way, though not as immediately nor as substantially as Samaras and others might hope. EU heads of government want to allocate 6 billion euros ($7.8 billion) for this for 2014 and 2015. Even this assistance is only possible because the EU institutions were able to agree on a multi-year budget - which would fund such a youth employment program - just hours before the start of the summit.
With this, every youth should receive - four months after the end of their basic education, at the latest - an offer for a job, training position or internship. The EU is calling it a training guarantee, while some leaders admit that 6 billion euros is just a drop in the bucket for this. Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen believes, however, that "the main responsibility lies in the hands of governments."
Merkel's mantra: competitiveness
The southern European countries, with their high unemployment rates, don't particularly like to hear that national governments should bear this burden. They often perceive imposed austerity measures as responsible for their problems, and seek more financial solidarity from the more stable northern countries.
But German Chancellor Angela Merkel doesn't let that sway her. She keeps focusing on the causes of stagnating economic growth: "Above all, it's about improving our competitiveness, and not about generating new funding sources."
Also the odd man out of the EU - British Prime Minister David Cameron - expressed himself similarly: "Getting control of spending, making sure we live within our means and making ourselves more competitive … that is what we are doing in Britain, that is what we need to do in Brussels."
This accord between Merkel and Euroskeptic Cameron stands in stark contrast to the growing tension with French President Francois Hollande. He has managed the feat of not only alienating northern European countries, but also picking a quarrel with the European Commission. Hollande referred to the commission's advice of reforming France's generous pension system as "dictating" what they do - although it's the commission's role to provide every EU member country with economic recommendations.
The French minister of industry, Arnaud Montebourg, recently even implied that European Commission President José Manuel Barroso was responsible for the rise of the right-wing extremist National Front in France, without being held back by Hollande.
Hollande in Brussels remained matter-of-fact, saying that personal questions remain secondary. Needless to say, many cameras will be following Hollande and Barroso to observe how they get on with each other.