President Hollande on Europe crisis and youth unemployment

European Union/“Europe: Next Steps” conference – Speech by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic (excerpts)

Paris, 28 May 2013

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Europe/crisis/youth unemployment

Europe, today, is unhappy. It is self-doubting, it is going through a crisis, it is experiencing a recession and even has doubts about its project. This is what is behind your meeting today: how do we define new steps? How do we restore confidence in institutions which haven’t been undermined and in governments who can – and this is quite natural – be held responsible? How do we ensure that the instruments in place are used in the best interests of each nation and Europe? This is our goal today. (...)

The most important thing today is the return of growth and confidence, but above all, hope.

Every state, of course, must shoulder its responsibilities. It would be all too easy, as has happened in the past, to refer to Europe matters on which we should be acting on our own initiative, i.e. sorting out our public accounts, improving competitiveness, choosing innovation, investing in knowledge... Let’s not ask Europe what we’ve got to do. It is our own responsibility, at any rate one which should have been carried out years ago, for a country such as France.

But at the same time, we know that the best policies in each country can’t necessarily lead to a European optimum. So there are initiatives to be taken at European level. This is why I proposed one, with the strengthening of economic government. (...)

Six million young people are unemployed in Europe. But when you take a close look at the figures, there are nearly 14 million jobless people who aren’t studying, who aren’t on apprenticeships and who require us to show solidarity.

Those of the post-crisis generation, let’s call it that, will hold today’s governments to account for the rest of their lives, remembering that the post-war generation – mine – had the necessary support from Europe, the hope of finding a job, employment after our studies and, in short, doing well in life.

Can we leave today’s generation with this lack of prospects, this ill-feeling, this resentment towards governments and Europe? It isn’t simply anger that’s at issue, but a rift. A rift between one generation and the previous ones. At issue isn’t simply those governing at a particular moment being punished, it’s people’s very estrangement from the European enterprise. At issue is people’s idea of Europe. Not that everyone thought Europe had to meet every need, but there’s the idea nonetheless of a Europe which must be one of hope and protection. So we have to address this imperative today.

Youth employment opportunities/job creation/EU funding

Here again, the youth employment initiative was taken, and I thank everyone involved in it. Already in the draft European budget, which Parliament hasn’t approved yet – I’m trying to persuade Martin Schulz! – €6 billion has been earmarked for youth employment. Or at least, €6 billion over five years!

So the first proposal I’m making is that we could – not anticipate the payment: the budget hasn’t been passed, but for a start prepare the allocation of those funds so that the relevant states and bodies can very quickly mobilize the funds and ensure that, in regions where the unemployment rate is above 25%, that is, several regions in Europe, we can have an implementation of this plan.

Second proposal: the European Council has adopted the idea of a Youth Guarantee. What’s it about? It’s about ensuring that, four months after a young person leaves training, school, university, a solution can be proposed to them: a job, training, an apprenticeship or even an internship. It’s an excellent principle. But has the implementation of this goal been organized yet? We must do this now.

I also want us to be able to channel the Erasmus programme to enable mobility for all young people: not only students but also apprentices. Hence the work-linked training Erasmus, a great idea that means all young people – whatever their background, wherever they’re trained – can be sure they’re going to do part of their qualification course in a European country other than their own. There too, the funds exist; let’s make them available.

And employment should also be created. Whatever the mechanisms – we know some here in France: future jobs, intergenerational contracts – the Ministry of Labour is working actively every day to further broaden their implementation.

But in addition to any mechanisms we can create, what we need are companies that can propose jobs for today and tomorrow. That’s the second direction I’d like us to take.

Too many companies have trouble gaining access to financing; too many creative people, including in the lowest-income neighbourhoods of our towns and cities in Europe, are deterred, discouraged, hindered in their opportunities to take the initiative. So financing should be mobilized.

There’s the ECB, which must provide more liquidity… It’s independent, so I’ll take care not to give it any advice! Moreover, it’s no longer a matter of interest rates: interest rates are low. It’s about companies’ access to credit, and particularly the most vulnerable countries’ access to liquidity.

And there’s also the EIB; everyone’s looking to it. Everyone’s hoping the manna will be there and the resources available. From a certain point of view that’s true, because a year ago a growth compact was decided on by the heads of state and government: €120 billion, with the recapitalization of the EIB.

But in this respect, Europe resembles France and France Europe. Between the moment a decision is taken and the moment it’s implemented, there’s time: time for discussion, time for supervision, time for suspicion. Are those funds really going to be allocated and properly spent? And during this time, nothing is allocated or spent.

Today, there’s a determination to mobilize the EIB’s funds through guarantees, through specific lines of credit in employment pools particularly affected by youth unemployment. There too, let’s show imagination; let’s move fast!

Time is the decisive factor in the battle. Political choices do indeed make the difference between a good and a bad decision. But in the time it takes to implement a decision, there are key choices at the technical level which become political choices. Moving quickly is the main goal when there’s an emergency, and there’s an emergency with regard to youth unemployment.

We agree with Chancellor Angela Merkel on achieving a genuine employment plan for young people this year. It’s an important initiative that the Germans and French have decided to undertake. The European Commission is playing an active role; it will make its proposals to the European Council. The European Parliament itself is aware of its own responsibility. In short, we – the European institutions, the heads of state and government, France and Germany… – agree. So if we agree, let’s do it!

The European Council will be held in June. I’d like it to be able to consider this youth employment plan. On 3 July a meeting will be held in Berlin with all the labour and employment ministers. I think it’s the first time this gathering has taken place. We’re used to economy and finance ministers meeting. But employment ministers – maybe that will provide food for thought!

That’s on 3 July. Angela Merkel will chair the meeting, I shall also be present, and so will the President of Lithuania, who will hold the rotating EU presidency. I think that’s where we’ll also have to further boost this plan for young people. (…)./.

Published on 05/06/2013

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