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BRUSSELS (AP) â¿¿ As Europe's leaders convened to discuss the continent's massive unemployment problem, it was a visitor this week, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who most eloquently summed up what is at stake.
"Youth unemployment is a time bomb," said the Myanmar opposition leader, who held talks on how Europe could help her country emerge from decades of dictatorship.
In the EU, the world's biggest trade bloc, some 23.3 percent â¿¿ or 5.5 million â¿¿ of those under the age of 25 are jobless, according to EU figures.
EU government leaders will specifically address the issue at their summit Thursday, but there are few solutions in sight due to countries' high debt, a lack of funds, sometimes strict labor laws and a reluctance among the young to relocate.
The leaders took heart in signs that the financial crisis might have reached a bottom â¿¿ a timid return to economic growth promises a pickup in employment. But with joblessness still near 11 percent, labor unions were not convinced.
"Twenty-seven million unemployed in Europe see no light at the end of the tunnel, only the light of a high speed train ready to run them over," said Bernadette Segol, the chief of the European Trade Union Confederation.
Business federations want to revive the jobs market by making labor laws more flexible and making it easier to hire and fire at short notice. Unions decry such moves, arguing they have spawned an increase in short-term contracts and low wages that leave households uncertain about the future and undermine Europe's vaunted welfare state.
A pre-summit meeting between labor and employers' federations yielded little beyond agreeing to disagree. EU leaders will later seek to agree on an 8 billion-euro ($11 billion) package to alleviate youth unemployment that would kick in early next year. But for many that is too little, too late.