Youth-unemployment efforts accelerate in Rome

Labor, economy ministers agree on billions in SME loans

Youth-unemployment efforts accelerate in Rome

(By Christopher Livesay) Rome, June 14 - The economy and labor ministers from the eurozone's four largest economies met in Rome Friday to discuss escalating youth unemployment in the crisis-stricken bloc and possible solutions, one of which includes tens of billions of euros in new financing for small businesses. "We have no time left," said Premier Enrico Letta at the meeting, according to sources from his office. "We must act immediately". A record 12.2% of the eurozone's working population is unemployed, while youth unemployment in the bloc is double at 24.4%. In Italy it is a record 12%, with around four in 10 Italians aged 15-to-24 out of work. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) believes both will go up next year. Economy and labor ministers from Germany, France, Italy and Spain attended the meeting, entitled Jobs for Youth - Building Opportunities, Opening Paths. After the meeting, Italy's economy minister said the ministers had agreed that the European Investment Bank (EIB) should use a capital increase towards creating up to 60 billion euros in financing for small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Fabrizio Saccomanni said "there was consensus on finding new financing channels for SMEs" and on the need for "the EIB, which had a capital increase of 10 billion euros last year, to use (these funds) in an innovative way, multiplying the capital base up to a maximum of 60 billion euros". Distinct from the European Central Bank (ECB), the EIB is the EU's nonprofit long-term lending body, whose shareholders are member states. Ahead of the meeting, the Italian premier made clear that more than just talk was expected from the meetings. "We will not settle for words or declarations...That is the problem with Europe today that has distanced institutions from citizens," Letta said. The jobs meeting was scheduled ahead of a European Union summit on June 27-28 which is expected to have the employment crisis high on its agenda; as well as a youth-unemployment conference in Berlin on July 3; and a G20 ministerial meeting in Moscow in mid-July. Letta has vowed that Italy will have a national action plan against youth unemployment in place before this issue is addressed at June's EU summit, which he successfully campaigned for at an EU summit on May 22, his debut as premier on the European stage. On that 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).

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