By Francesca James

European leaders agreed on Thursday to set aside around 8 billion euros to combat youth unemployment.

According to a European Union factsheet, people between 15 and 24 years belong to the most vulnerable groups in our societies, as they are either newcomers to the labour market or their foothold in the labour market is recent and not very consolidated.

‘The economic crisis has hit across all layers of society and young people is one of the most affected groups. The situation is particularly acute in certain Member States and regional differences in the rate of youth unemployment are increasing significantly. This could pose a serious threat to social cohesion and increase the risk of political instability’.

In April 2013, the youth unemployment rate reached 23.5% in the EU 27. Moreover, the disparities between member states and between regions within member states are significant: the youth unemployment rate is over 50% in some member states and over 70% in some regions, while in a few regions it is even below 5%. All in all, currently more than 7.5 million of young people under 25 are neither in employment, education or training (NEET).

President Herman Van Rompuy has said that ‘unemployment levels are alarmingly high — hiding many different realities and causes that often run deep. He added that ‘we are under no illusion: the problem won't be solved overnight. But there is no reason for a "mission impossible" mindset. Common resolve and immediate actions can make a difference. That's why we took tonight a number of decisions that can and will create jobs’.

‘Scaling up and speeding up actions like the Youth Employment Initiative or the Youth Guarantees - to ensure that within 4 months of leaving school or becoming unemployed, every young person gets a good offer for a job, education or training’.

To this end, first, the ‘Youth Employment Initiative will be frontloaded, with spending concentrated in the first two years. Second, the flexibility offered by the MFF means unspent funds go in a pot and will be used primarily to support employment, especially for youth, but also on growth areas like innovation and research’.

‘The flexibility means, in effect, that beyond the 6 billion euro that we reserved in February, there will be substantially more available for the Youth Employment Initiative: according to projections, at least 8 billion euro in total. This is good news. And I am also glad that with the new budget these programmes will be able to start as foreseen as of 1 January’.

‘We took other decisions -- for instance promoting cross-border mobility, including for vocational training, as well as high-quality apprenticeships. They will help bring down hurdles, giving a perspective to hundreds of thousands of young people. But that is not all’.

‘Employment policies are mainly a responsibility for national governments, with the European Union supporting national efforts. Together we have more tools, we can offer more solutions. Leaders are eager to exchange experiences and best practices, bilaterally or for instance next week in Berlin. Today's meeting shows that leaders consider that unemployment in all our countries, even if it's a matter for national governments, also is a joint responsibility. Economically, socially, politically’.