EU leaders to meet on jobs as budget disputes loom
By Francesca Landini
MILAN (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has persuaded European partners to attend a meeting on jobs in Milan on Wednesday but he may struggle to get them to agree to do much more than show up.
Originally presented as a summit and later downgraded to a "high-level conference", the encounter is meant to help develop a response to the jobs crisis, especially among the young, that is hitting southern European countries particularly hard.
Unemployment in the eurozone is near record levels. Figures for August showed more than 18 million people were out of work or about 11.5 percent of the working population. The figures are particularly high in southern Europe and among young people, of whom about a quarter are unemployed.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande are both due in Milan but no concrete measures or conclusions are expected from the meeting which comes only weeks before the same EU leaders are due to meet in a full European Council in Brussels.
Scheduled to last only three hours, the meeting was confirmed only after much confusion, with a succession of statements from various European capitals announcing first that it had been canceled and then that it was going ahead.
Officials said the meeting would be a "stock-taking exercise" to keep up momentum on measures such as the Youth Guarantee Scheme, an EU-wide initiative aimed at helping people under the age of 25 into work.
For Renzi, fighting heavy domestic opposition to plans to change some hiring-and-firing rules for workers on permanent contracts, the meeting will provide a platform for his calls for a more expansive interpretation of European Union budget rules to stimulate the stagnant eurozone economy.
Italy wants to discuss Europe-wide action to boost investment, to prepare the ground for possible concrete measures to be weighed at the EU summit scheduled in December. Continued...