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Tackling youth unemployment in Europe

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(BRUSSELS) - With one young person out of four out of work, the European Union is hobbled by high rates of youth unemployment, a potential powder keg for popular discontent, especially in the worst affected southern countries.

Here is an overview of the situation, based on figures for April, the latest provided by the EU statistics office Eurostat. The youth unemployment reading is for those people aged 16-25.

GREECE: Twice bailed-out Greece has the worst youth unemployment rate of all, at 62.5 percent, compared with an overall jobless rate of 27 percent. The government, desperately short of funds, has announced limited trainee programmes but these have been overwhelmed by the numbers.

SPAIN: One of the countries hardest hit by the debt crisis combined with a real estate crash, Spain narrowly held on to avoid a full-scale bailout last year. Its youth unemployment rate comes in at 56.4 percent, more than double the overall jobless tally at 26.8 percent.

In March the government unveiled "15 shock measures," including training for 450,000 youths who suffer from a "teaching deficit."

The plan is tipped to cost 3.5 billion euros over four years, with 32 percent paid by the EU.

Young entrepreneurs get to keep part of their unemployment benefits and social welfare costs have been reduced for the hiring of young workers for up to three years.

PORTUGAL: Suffering like neighbour Spain, Portugal needed a debt rescue in 2011. Its youth unemployment rate is 42.5 percent, compared with the national rate of 17.8 percent. A plan was launched a year ago to help 90,000 youths find work but only 12,000 have been signed up.

The government has simplified the plan and wants to expand it to cover 120,000 youths within a year.

ITALY: Like Spain, many believed Italy too would need a bailout last year but it too has managed to hold the line. It has a youth unemployment rate of 40.5 percent, more than three times the overall rate of 12 percent.

Prime Minister Enrico Letta has promised to make the fight against youth unemployment a top priority for his grand coalition government, saying that the policies of previous administrations have always favoured older workers.

The government is planning to deploy unused EU funds to bring school-leavers into the labour market. The problem is particularly acute in southern Italy -- where women as a whole and young people are more likely than not to be out of work.

GERMANY: In marked contrast with weaker southern EU members, economic powerhouse Germany has very much lower youth unemployment, running at 7.5 percent in April, compared with the overall jobless rate of 5.4 percent.

Germany is a success story, having managed to keep youth unemployment to a minimum, with 1.5 million enrolled in training programmes.

The youth jobless rate has been cut in half since 2005, in part owing to a low birth rate which has reduced competition for jobs.

Traineeships account for about 60 percent of first jobs and can be found from 16 years onwards.

AUSTRIA: Youth unemployment 8.0 percent, overall jobless 4.9 percent. Around 40 percent of young Austrians from the age of 15 can enter training programmes for three years.

Those who do not find work can be retrained by state officials and partner companies to work in fields where companies are hiring.

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