Youth unemployment at EU summit a triumph for Letta

Joblessness among young people topping 38% in Italy

Youth unemployment at EU summit a triumph for Letta

(By Christopher Livesay) Brussels, May 22 - Italian Premier Enrico Letta triumphed at a European Union summit in Brussels Wednesday where he successfully pushed to make youth unemployment the central focus of the following June EU summit. Letta was speaking after making his debut on the European stage in an extraordinary European Council focusing on energy policy and fighting tax evasion. "I'm very satisfied that European Council President Herman Van Rompuy has agreed to our proposal for the fight on youth unemployment to be the main issue at the next Council in June," Letta said. "The unemployment data confirms that we are on the right road. Unemployment is the nightmare of our time and if there are no answers, there is no credibility in Europe's policies and institutions". On the same day, national statistics agency Istat reported that Italy has Europe's highest proportion of young people doing "nothing", with almost a quarter of 15-to-29-year-olds not in education, employment or training (NEET). Unemployment for youths under 25 topped 38% earlier this year. In addition to a victory for his fledgling left-right government, the successful push to put youth job-creation front and center on the next EU summit agenda was seen by some as a coup for the 46-year-old center-left premier. Letta compared his EU debut to a "baptism". The premier, who was sworn in at the helm of an unprecedented left-right coalition government last month, says he will present a plan to help boost job creation at the upcoming summit. Going into the summit he criticized the EU for not backing up its words on solving youth unemployment with strong actions and moving rapidly to invest its energy into "policies for growth and jobs". Solving the crisis of rising youth unemployment must be an "absolute" priority, both for the economy and for the EU's credibility, he told the Senate Tuesday. "The EU is in a crisis of legitimacy over the lack of results (on previous promises to deal with joblessness among European youth)". The upcoming summit is also due to address growth in the eurozone. Italy, which is experiencing its worst recession in at least four decades, is shifting its attention to stimulating growth as the effects of austerity are increasingly blamed for the shrinking economy. With that in mind, Letta made the case before the House Tuesday that creating jobs and stimulating investment could be achieved if the European Union granted governments more room to maneuver within its budget rules. The EU at its June summit "must recognize spaces (needed) to maneuver national public finances in order to enable member States to invest adequate resources into active labor policies, reducing taxes on labor and creating jobs for young people," he said. Italy recently forecast its deficit-to-GDP ratio will be 2.9% this year, taking it under the 3% threshold permitted by the EU. Letta's government is hoping to convince the European Commission to end the excessive-deficit procedure it has against Italy this month or early in June. Letta's opinion of the summit Wednesday was positive. "I found the exchange and the discussion on various themes very pleasant and profound," he said. Most of the talks focused on fighting tax evasion, with MEPs calling for a joint EU blacklist of tax havens for multinational companies and rich executives. Even Austria, despite its reputation for banking secrecy, joined the call for a crackdown. Letta said that an extraordinary meeting of EU labour ministers focusing on youth unemployment will take place in Berlin in July. He also said that Van Rompuy will come to Rome on May 31 to discuss this problem.

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