BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday that money isn’t the main obstacle to tackling Europe’s high youth unemployment as she brought together officials from across the continent to discuss how best to get young people into jobs.
The heads of the 28 European Union countries’ national labor agencies and their labor ministers met before Merkel joined French President Francois Hollande and other leaders at the chancellery in Berlin.
EU leaders have agreed to put aside 6 billion euros ($7.8 billion) starting next year, on top of other funding, to ease youth unemployment. How the money could be used will be one talking point, though decisions aren’t expected until later this year.
German officials say that, adding in money from sources such as the European Investment Bank and other European funds, the total available to tackle youth unemployment in the short term is above 20 billion euros.
The conference is primarily aimed at comparing notes on what measures countries can take to bring down an unemployment rate among under-25s that stood at 23.1 percent across the EU in May.
The worst-affected countries, Spain and Greece, have youth unemployment rates above 50 percent; in Germany, the rate is just 7.6 percent. Those figures exclude young people studying full-time.
“Youth unemployment is perhaps the most pressing European problem at the moment,” Merkel said in an interview with Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung and five other European newspapers published Wednesday.
Among other things, she said, Europe needs more flexible labor markets and more mobile work forces.
Merkel called for an existing European student exchange system to be extended to apprentices. Germany also has held up its “dual training” system, under which apprentices receive formal education while also doing paid work, as an example to others.
No new pledges of money are expected Wednesday. Merkel, who continues to insist that public spending cuts must be part of a mix of measures to restore Europe to growth and make it more competitive, said the problem can’t be cured with money alone and that reforms are important.
“I don’t think money is the problem right at the moment,” Merkel told delegates as she welcomed fellow leaders to the conference.
“The problem is, how do we want to earn our money in future, how can we give young people an opportunity, how can we supply small and medium-sized companies with loans so that they can afford the interest,” she added. “In a word: how can we get the economy going again?”