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José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Speech by President Barroso: "Youth Guarantee: Making it Happen"
High-level conference on youth employment
Brussels, 8 April 2014
Thank you very much, László,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Representatives of the different governments,
Representatives of international organisations, representatives of the social partners,
Members of Parliament,
First of all, let me congratulate László Andor and his services for the commitment he has shown, not only in preparing this very important conference but also in the fight against youth unemployment.
As he said, we believe this is a different kind of conference, very much focused, following the good initiatives taken by Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande, in Berlin and Paris where we had meetings with the Heads of State and Government.
The European Commission decided to organise something more focused, precisely to see where we are, what we should do more, how we can speed up our work, involving the stakeholders, involving you, the national experts, involving the national organisations.
And in prepare also what we believe can be a success, a High Level meeting at the level of Heads of State and Government, that now the next Presidency, the Italian Presidency, is now preparing for Turin.
We are here today because our young people remain at the core of our priorities. They hold the key to Europe's future dynamism and prosperity. Their talents, skills and creativity are essential to ensure European's growth and competitiveness.
The reality is that youth unemployment has reached alarming levels, representing a waste of human resources and talent that Europe simply cannot afford.
In Europe we find ourselves facing a challenge: growth is resuming, slowly but surely, but that urgently needs to be translated into job opportunities. Promoting youth employment, we concluded, must be our top priority. Or better said, our top priority is to fight unemployment, and inside this priority, the major issue we have is the issue of youth unemployment.
That's why, in our communication, myself, Commissioner Andor and all of us, we have said that while there are signs of hope in the economic situation in Europe, it would be a mistake to deny them, it would be of course contrary to our interests in the sense that we would not fuel the confidence that is necessary also from the point of view of consumers and investors - while, I repeat, there are signs of hope and the recovery is there, we cannot yet say that the crisis is over. How could we say the crisis is over with these unacceptable high levels of unemployment?
And I think this reveals the challenges we are facing today. That's why, for instance in the Country-Specific Recommendations that we are going to prepare for the beginning of June, we are insisting on the need to focus the policies in terms of growth, namely through investment: Investment for jobs, hopefully, quality jobs. This is the moment we are living in terms of our turnaround of the economy.
And we know that sometimes there is a time lag between the change in some macroeconomic indicators and the translation, namely, in terms of generation of new employment. And I believe we are in one of those moments.
At the same time, there are still some structural factors that hamper growth and hamper employment, and that have to be addressed on their own.
We have to work hard to make possible this recovery and make possible the growth of employment. This follow-up conference underlines our firm commitment.
It has been a year and a half since the Commission presented its Youth Employment Package in December 2012, which included the establishment of a Youth Guarantee, and it has been one year after the Member States adopted it in April 2013. So that's the first thing that I want to underline: it's not common for Member States to adopt our proposals in six months. So it shows that at least there is awareness by the governments of Europe about the extremely difficult situation we are living in.
Now all Member States should ensure that all young Europeans receive a good quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within four months of leaving school or becoming unemployed. This is the Youth Guarantee.
Now, we need to make it happen.
Now, we need to make it happen shortly.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As we speak, a number of important indicators are moving in the right direction.
Growth is picking up. It is expected to reach 1.5% in the European Union this year and accelerate to 2.0% next year.
Labour markets are always slower to react. The outlook now is for a modest rise in employment from this year on and a decline in the unemployment rate towards 10.4% by 2015. Youth unemployment is currently at 22.9%, almost twice as high as the overall rate.
We can only conclude that unemployment is at an unsustainable and unacceptable level, and that's why we need a targeted and effective response.
And targeted, because such general figures hide large differences between countries. This is an average, but the situation as you know is very different across countries.
Targeted, because certain groups of youngsters - such as women, disabled people and migrants - are particularly exposed to the risks of unemployment, long-term unemployment and early school leaving.
Targeted, because young people are over-represented in temporary and part-time work, which reflects segmented labour markets.
We need to focus on the young people that are not in employment, education or in training (the so-called NEET), and in Europe today, over 14 million people under the age of 29 are consider a NEET. So not in employment, education or training.
Also, let us not forget that high unemployment co-exist with increasing difficulties in filling vacancies. The latest European company survey found that about 40% of firms across the EU had difficulties finding staff with the right skills - 40%, which is quite a high figure, I'm sure you'll agree.
Growth is necessary, but in itself not a sufficient condition to solve these problems. There is also the prospect of jobless growth. So that is why we need, at the same time that we try to foster new drivers for growth, to have specific targeted measures for employment. That is, we need to have this broader strategy to address employment, education and skills levels.
That is why the implementation of the Youth Guarantee remains a top priority.
Indeed the Europe 2020 strategy has put a special focus on implementing effective measures to address youth unemployment. This is reflected in the Commission's Country-Specific Recommendations in 2013, which have identified urgent steps needed in 19 Member States to combat youth unemployment through, inter alia, active labour market policies, reinforcement of public employment services and support for training and apprenticeship schemes.
The European Commission is closely following up the implementation of the Country-Specific Recommendations and we will be attentive to the forthcoming National Reform Programmes.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The establishment of a Youth Guarantee scheme in all Member States is a major structural reform and also a key investment for the future.
The fact is that most of the work to fight youth unemployment must be done at the national level. And of course very different situations co-exist in terms of the challenges facing our countries, their policies, the institutional arrangements in place and also the constraints on budgetary resources.
However, the European Union can provide added value through targeted initiatives and funding. And we are pro-actively doing so.
The successful launch of the Youth Guarantee shows that there is a strong commitment at the highest political level to tackle youth unemployment. So far 23 Member States have submitted their Youth Guarantee Implementation Plans – I think the 23rd was sent to the Commission just yesterday – and the other 5 are expected to present theirs later this year.
The Commission is carefully assessing the plans submitted. We had bilateral meeting with Member States. We also provided technical feedback on the implementation plans and in some cases "Youth Guarantee technical missions" have been sent to our Member States.
The need for a comprehensive strategy supporting the move from school to work is a novel requirement for most Member States. The point is that the Youth Guarantee needs to be a comprehensive scheme that reaches all unemployed or inactive young people, even those who are hardest to help. Very good inter-ministerial cooperation and the involvement of all stakeholders are crucial, especially social partners, youth organisations and also the private sector must be involved.
A credible Youth Guarantee implementation plan starts with a sound analysis of where current policy falls short in targeting young people's needs. Schemes and programmes for youth employment are almost universally weak in reaching out effectively to young people who are neither in employment, nor in education or training. That is why they need a targeted response.
We believe that with the Youth Guarantee, we can change this.
There is also an urgent need to ensure that sufficient funding, and in this context European funding, is in place as soon as possible to support the Youth Guarantee roll-out. This includes speeding up preparations for the Youth Employment Initiative-related programmes, so that the 6 billion euros can reach those Member States as soon as possible. As we know, we have decided to frontload those funds inside the seven year programming of the Multiannual Financial Framework.
The Youth Employment Initiative is highly relevant as it seeks to support the fight against youth unemployment, and in particular the implementation of the Youth Guarantee, in most affected regions (those with youth unemployment rates above 25%).
Additional EU support for the Member States in the fight against youth unemployment should also come from the European Social Fund. That is why, when we speak about €6 billion, we can say that in fact there will be more funding, if necessary, and where necessary.
However, money needs to start flowing. I would therefore encourage Member States to step up their efforts to implement the Youth Employment Initiative as soon as possible. It is now high time we delivered on the ground and achieved concrete results!
Ladies and gentlemen,
The Youth Guarantee is about rolling out quality traineeships and apprenticeships on a much larger scale than before.
The Council – thanks to the Greek Presidency's efforts – recently reached a political agreement on our proposal for the Quality Framework for Traineeships, and this happened 3 months after the Commission made its proposal. The Quality Framework for Traineeships is an important reference point for traineeships under the Youth Guarantee. Traineeships can have a key role in ensuring smooth transitions from school to work only if they offer quality learning content and good working conditions. It is now crucial that all Member States 'ensure' the full application of the quality elements by adopting them in their legislation or national practices.
Another European-wide initiative is the European Alliance for Apprenticeships that aims to increase the quality and supply of apprenticeships across Europe and to change attitudes towards dual education systems. Let me tell you that myself and Commissioner Andor have been in contact with the business community, promoting actively their participation and their initiatives also in this European Alliance for Apprenticeships. And so far we have seen an overall positive reaction with many companies, including trans-national companies, committing to some action in this area.
But as I was saying, it is very important with regard to the dual education system, because experience shows that in countries where dual education systems exist, young people have a better chance of a smooth transition from school to work. Following the launch of the Alliance last year, in fact some 30 organisations have already pledged to take concrete action.
Supporting labour mobility, one the four freedoms underlying Europe's internal market, is also important and the Commission has proposed to improve and modernise EURES, the job mobility portal that currently gives access to over 1.7 million job vacancies, to more effectively match labour supply and demand across Europe.
Another promising initiative is the Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs that the Commission launched last year, together with stakeholders. I personally, together with the relevant Commissioners, organised meetings with some of the biggest companies in the world in the digital area to ask them to contribute - and this has, in fact, gone well. Information and communications technology remains one of the best avenues for job creation in Europe. Over the last years, this sector has proven its resilience over the crisis and 500,000 jobs were created in the ICT sector. Europe might actually face a shortage of up to 900,000 ICT professionals by 2020.
The Commission will soon launch a new initiative to exploit the potential of job creation in the green economy, something that we know will need more professionals. And as you know, as in many of the initiatives of the Multiannual Financial Framework, there is the potential for the creation of new jobs in this green economy.
The Erasmus+ programme is also supporting Member States reforms in the field of education and training systems. For 2014-2020 it has a budget of €14.7 billion aimed at boosting skills, employability and supporting the modernisation of education, training and youth systems.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I just mentioned some of the initiatives that we are taking at European level. But as I said before, the critical point here is at the Member States' level. It is basically a national competence, in the case of employment. Of course we try, in fact we have created new instruments, also financially, but we have to be sure that the key is implementation.
That is why the presence of such distinguished experts and people working in the national administrations is so important here today. Of course, what we can do, and we are doing, is to create this political priority, to try to join efforts at national, European and sometimes also international level, as Commissioner Andor mentioned, for instance with the ILO. We can and should do that.
But at the same time, the success of this is in the implementation, the way our national administrations – with the resources they have and some that we can put at their disposition – can indeed implement it on the ground. And also the political commitment, the priority that governments, social partners, political partners and, generally speaking, stakeholders can give to the effective implementation of the Youth Guarantee.
I am really convinced that the success of the Youth Guarantee depends to a very great extent on sharing ownership with the many players involved. As I said in one of those meetings, I think it was in Berlin, where myself and, of course, Commissioner Andor participated, it is important that this initiative is not a one-off. This is not a one-off, this is not just a photo opportunity. It has to be a process that mobilises all the partners involved. That is why it is important, apart from high-level conferences, to have full commitment at European and national level.
Because, I believe that Europe as a political project has to be based on a firm belief in our social model, our social market economy and on the values that underlie it. It can only prosper if we give our young people opportunities. This is indeed one of the most existential issues that we are facing, not to have a lost generation in Europe. Those young people will only embrace Europe if Europe embraces them, if Europe shows that we are concerned, but not only concerned, but committed to find solutions.
This is what is at stake.
And we will do everything – together – to make sure we make it happen.
I am counting on you. Because also Europe's younger generations should count on us.
Thank you very much for your attention.