The financial and economic crisis has lasted much longer than expected, and its social consequences are also very severe. The unprecedented numbers of people out of work and the social emergency caused by the recession, unemployment and lack of growth have damaged trust in political and economic systems across Europe. To restore this trust is today the most important duty for national governments and for the EU.
Unemployment has hit the young generation particularly hard in most EU countries. Having 7.5 million young people under 25 neither in jobs, nor in any form of education or training (so-called NEETs) is a source not only of major economic losses, but also potential social disintegration and political uncertainty. This is why, in December 2012, the European Commission launched the Youth Employment Package designed specifically to help young job seekers and NEETs.
The Youth Employment Package includes a proposal for introducing the Youth Guarantee to ensure that all young people up to age 25 receive a quality offer of a job, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within four months of leaving formal education or becoming unemployed. This is a formula that has a proven track record to boost youth employment in Austria and Finland. The EU Council of Ministers of Employment approved this Recommendation in February this year.
The Youth Guarantee is not the first and not the only initiative the Commission has taken in order to improve the opportunities of young people. We will soon launch a European Alliance for Apprenticeships in order to facilitate the transfer of better vocational training models to countries where these foundations have been week. Support for mobility programmes, through upgrading the EURES pan-European job search network, will also help job seekers to identify where suitable job vacancies exist and employers to find suitably skilled workers.
EU funding plays a major role in efforts to support unemployed young people. In the last year, the Commission worked with Member States to re-allocate EU structural funds to target youth unemployment in the eight Member States with the most serious young jobless problem (Greece, Spain, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal and Slovakia). In just over one year the work of Action Teams composed of national and Commission officials has allowed these Member States to target 16 billion euros of EU financing for accelerated delivery or reallocation, with around 780 000 young people and 55 000 SMEs likely to benefit.
EU resources for social investment will also be crucial in the future. That is why it is so welcome that a new Youth Employment Initiative to combat youth unemployment was proposed by the February European Council with a budget of €6 billion for the period 2014-20. However, we also need the European Social Fund to be given a substantial share of EU cohesion funding in the same period. We need to ensure that our Member States invest more than in the past in Europe's human capital and in particular its young people.
The crisis has taught us the need to use a range of policy instruments to achieve sustainable high employment. At times of recession, demand side interventions must play a stronger role, for example through a serious lowering of the tax burden on labour. Structural reforms, like the recent Italian or Slovenian ones, also play a role in making labour markets more dynamic. A strong investment in training programmes and well-functioning public employment services is also needed.
Clearly social dialogue - the dialogue between workers' and employers' representatives – has a crucial role to play in designing and implementing such reforms. Experience shows that reforms introduced without respecting social dialogue are less likely to be well implemented or durable.
These employment initiatives can lead us towards a job-rich recovery, while the overall macroeconomic conditions also have to improve. A robust recovery strategy for Europe starts and ends with healing the euro. It has to ensure that we have a monetary union that leads to convergence and cohesion rather than polarisation in the EU. Europe cannot afford losing this battle, and we must start by creating jobs for our young people, who hold the future in their hands.