By COLLEEN BARRY
AP Business Writer
MILAN (AP) _ European leaders will debate ways to find work for the continent’s 25 million unemployed at a summit Wednesday, as popular frustration grows at authorities’ failure to return the continent’s economy to health.
Several thousand union activists protested outside the venue, demanding a stop to government spending austerity policies and calling for reforms to encourage investment.
`’The unemployment rate and the number of precarious jobs are only increasing,” said Maurizio Landini, the head of the FIOM metalworkers’ union.
The jobs summit, the third on the topic in under 18 months, will again square off France and Italy, which want to slow the pace of their spending cuts and increase investment by the EU to help growth, against Germany in its role as the main enforcer of austerity.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Borroso promised no new investment, however.
He said he would press EU leaders to live up to their budget commitments, which require them to bring deficits below 3 percent of GDP. France in particular is defying that limit, afraid to clamp down on spending for fear of doing damage to its already-weak economy and labor market. Nearly one out of four you people in Europe is without a job.
Barroso also said EU countries should make the most of an existing plan worth 6 billion euros that aims to get every young person into a job, internship or training for four months of becoming unemployed. Countries have been slow, however, to come up with programs.
German Labor Minister Andrea Nahels likewise said countries should start using EU money that is available before asking for more.
`’Except in France and Italy, not a single euro has arrived to young people. In my view, it is premature to cry for more money,” Nahels told Berlin Inforadio.
Italian economist Tito Boeri said leaders should instead recognize that the program has failed because there are no jobs to offer young people in the countries with the highest youth unemployment rates, like Greece, Spain and Italy, due to recession.
`’We are not in an economic cycle where this can help,” Boeri said.
European countries have seen unemployment skyrocket, first fueled by the global recession and then by the continent’s debt crisis. The jobless rate for the EU’s 28 member countries is 11.5 percent. For young people in Europe, those aged between 15 and 24, the situation is much worse, at 23.3 percent.