By GEIR MOULSONBERLIN (AP) â¿¿ German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday that money isn't the main obstacle to tackling Europe's high youth unemployment as she brought together officials from across the continent to discuss how best to get young people into jobs. EU leaders have agreed to put aside 8 billion euros ($10.4 billion) starting next year, on top of funding from other European funds and institutions, to ease youth unemployment. German officials say that, in total, 24 billion euros will be available over the coming years. Merkel brought together heads of the 28 European Union countries' national labor agencies and their labor ministers, along with French President Francois Hollande and other leaders, to compare notes on what measures countries can take to bring down youth unemployment. Decisions on how exactly to use the money are expected later this year. The unemployment rate among under-25s stood at 23.1 percent across the EU in May. The worst-affected countries, Spain and Greece, have youth unemployment rates above 50 percent; in Germany, the rate is just 7.6 percent. Those figures exclude young people studying full-time. "I don't think money is the problem right at the moment," Merkel said as she welcomed fellow leaders to the conference. "The problem is, how do we want to earn our money in the future, how can we give young people an opportunity, how can we supply small and medium-sized companies with loans so that they can afford the interest," she added. "In a word: How can we get the economy going again?" France's Hollande offered to host a follow-up conference later this year. Merkel said after Wednesday's meeting that "there must be progress" by then, for example in making European countries' job offices more effective and strengthening training systems. However, she declined to set a specific youth unemployment rate as a target.
Merkel continues to insist that public spending cuts must be part of a mix of measures to restore Europe to growth and make it more competitive. She argues that Europe needs more flexible labor markets and more mobile workforces.Germany also wants an existing European student exchange system to be extended to apprentices. It has held up its "dual training" system, under which apprentices receive formal education while also doing paid work, as an example for others. Hollande said it's important to do "everything that can promote mobility," both into professions and geographically, and to encourage the creation of new companies.