European leaders promised on Wednesday to step up the fight against soaring youth unemployment, but offered no new solutions or money at a meeting critics derided as a “show summit” to soften Angela Merkel’s image ahead of a German election.
The chancellor, whose insistence on spending cuts in return for aid during the euro crisis has made her a target of anger in recession-hit southern Europe, hosted about 20 of her EU counterparts a week after the bloc agreed to spend 6 billion euros over the next two years to combat youth joblessness.
A few hundred people protested in front of the Chancellery in central Berlin, waving banners with slogans like “Europe’s Youth Needs More Than Merkel’s Hot Air”. The stated aim of the meeting was to discuss how best to use European Union funds once they become available in January.
At a news conference that featured statements from more than a half dozen senior EU figures, including French President Francois Hollande, Merkel stressed the need for more efficient labour rules and better education and training opportunities.
But the leaders were short on specifics, agreeing to meet again in November to evaluate progress.
“We want to put ourselves under a bit of pressure because we know we’ve raised certain expectations with today’s conference,” Merkel said. “It is very clear that we can’t solve the problem overnight but we must make progress by the next time we meet.”
The meeting took place against the backdrop of a political crisis in Portugal, brought on by a row over the austerity policies advocated by its European partners, the European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund.
Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, who attended the meeting in Berlin, told reporters he had no plans to resign despite the departure of several top ministers in recent days.
“I believe truly that people in my country are more frightened of the possibility of having a general election than maintaining the course of our reform programme,” he said.