ROME - Germany, France, Italy and Spain agreed Friday to find ways to help small- and medium-sized companies as part of a broader plan to create badly needed jobs for young people.
High youth unemployment has been a crippling result of Europe's sovereign debt crisis. Economy and labour ministers from the four nations met to draft proposals that leaders can debate at an EU summit at the end of the month.
Italian Premier Enrico Letta, who called the meeting, has made finding jobs for the young one of the battle cries of his new administration.
"One of the conclusions is to give a signal of strong attention to the return to growth of our countries and for an effective and serious battle against youth unemployment, a problem that exists in all of Europe," Italian Finance Minister Fabrizio Saccomanni told a news conference.
Saccomanni said the ministers agreed on the need to find new ways of financing small- and medium-sized businesses, which have been particularly heavy-hit in the crisis due to a lack of affordable credit from banks.
Among the possible ways to improve the credit flow was issuing mini-bonds guaranteed either by governments, banks or the European Central Bank.
About 40 per cent of Italians aged 15-24 and active in the job hunt are unemployed. The figure is above 50 per cent in Spain and Greece. Experts warn that if the rate stays that high, those countries could suffer a 'lost generation' of young workers. A new survey shows that 60 per cent of Italians students are considering going abroad for work.
The ministers also agreed to strengthen the role of the private sector in efforts to create jobs, improve the exchange of expertise on training, and leverage the use of EU funds that will be available from 2014.
In Italy, businesses were urging governments to lower payroll taxes to create jobs. Patrizio Bertelli, the CEO of the Prada fashion house, told a fashion gathering that "some businesses don't have enough jobs to hire young people" due to plummeting domestic demand.