World Bulletin / News Desk
Germany's Angela Merkel will meet European leaders in Berlin on Wednesday to discuss how to tackle chronic youth unemployment, in a summit that critics are calling a pre-election public relations exercise.
Unemployment in the euro zone is at a record high of over 12 percent and there are fears of a "lost generation" in Spain and Greece, where more than half the under-25s are out of work. Many blame Merkel.
She has spent most of the euro zone crisis insisting over-indebted states cut public spending. Now, just ahead of her re-election bid in September, Merkel is trying to rebrand herself as saviour of Europe's jobless as well as its public finances.
"A nice summit in Berlin with so many people coming - and with many of them probably applauding Germany for its readiness now to combat youth unemployment - is nice for Merkel, two and a half months before the election," said economist Holger Schmieding.
"With reform and austerity already having shown results, the priority is now to safeguard the achievements and to mitigate the pain," said the Berenberg Bank chief economist.
More than 20 EU leaders, from conservatives who see eye-to-eye with Merkel - such as Spain's Mariano Rajoy and Greece's Antonis Samaras - to leftists with whom she often disagrees -including France's Francois Hollande and Italy's Enrico Letta - will attend.
With European Council chief Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, they will discuss how best to spend 6 billion euros ($7.82 billion) in the next two years to create jobs and provide training and apprenticeships.
Merkel wants to study best practice to fight unemployment and create sustainable jobs, looking at the experiences of states with low unemployment. Labour ministers and officials will study how to create a network of labour agencies.
"Youth unemployment is perhaps the most pressing European problem. We Germans have gathered plenty of experience through our own structural reforms since reunification and we want to share these experiences," she said in an interview with a group of European newspapers on the eve of her summit.
But the timing of the meeting has raised eyebrows.
Germany's opposition Social Democrats (SPD) criticised Merkel for holding a "show summit".
"Now she is driving around Europe in an ambulance handing out band-aids for the injuries she has caused with her own policies," the SPD's Andrea Nahles said.
A French diplomatic source said Merkel wanted to appear "sensitive to the ideas of the SDP whose votes she is trying to capture" while showing Europe that Germany had a sense of solidarity.
Brussels-based think-tank Bruegel said that instead of funds for youth unemployment programmes, the focus should be creating conditions for growth by pushing ahead with reforms like a banking union.
"The priority to cut youth (and adult) unemployment should be growth," Bruegel economist Andre Sapir said.
The SPD, unions and groups of unemployed youngsters planned to protest outside Merkel's office ahead of the summit, scheduled for just after 2 p.m. (1200 GMT).
Güncelleme Tarihi: 03 Temmuz 2013, 10:10