With jobless rates headed for a postwar high, EU convenes special summit on employment.
The summit comes amid concern about the human cost of the recession in Europe. More than 600 000 people lost their jobs across the EU in March, and some countries have seen social protests in recent months.
Europe has to make employment its top priority, president Barroso said after the talks in Prague today. He called for more action to stem the rising jobless total.
Employment commissioner Vladimir Špidla stressed that the EU must use all available means to cushion the impact of the recession on workers. For example, both the European Social Fund and the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund can be used to help people hit by the crisis.
Businesses are urged to consider reducing workers’ hours rather than laying them off immediately. Workers could then use the extra time to develop new skills. Some companies are already doing this, notably in Germany.
Companies should also take on more apprentices and trainees, to help young people gain a foothold in the job market, especially those graduating from secondary school or college. Unemployment amongst Europeans under 25 is already above 17% - more than twice the overall rate - and is expected to exceed 30% in some EU countries. Training schemes should focus on skills that are in greatest demand.
More assistance for business start-ups could also help young and unemployed people stay productive.
The Prague talks were hosted by the Czech government, which currently holds the EU presidency, and included the two countries next in line – Sweden and Spain. Employers and unions also took part. The commission will feed the main messages into the June meeting of EU leaders.
As the economy continues to shrink, unemployment across the 27 EU countries reached 8.3% in March, up from 8.1% in February. There are now 20m people out of work, 4m more than a year ago. In the eurozone, unemployment rose to 8.9% from 8.7%.
And the worst is probably still to come. Unemployment in the eurozone looks set to rise to 11.5% by the end of 2010 – the highest level since World War II.
"We cannot prevent this crisis from causing unemployment,” the president said. “But acting now can reduce job losses, and help millions of people find new and better jobs.”