By KIRSTEN GRIESHABER
ROSTOCK, Germany (AP) _ Alessandro Risiglione couldn’t land a steady job in Italy for years. The 25-year-old occasionally found work as a mail man and pizza baker in Turin, but he could barely make ends meet.
So when he heard that the German government _ desperate to attract labor for its shrinking workforce _ had set up a program inviting young, unemployed EU citizens to three-year traineeships and even guaranteed to pay for language classes, travel costs and living expenses, Risiglione didn’t think twice. He applied for the funds, signed up with a trade school in Germany and boarded the plane.
The money never came.
“I thought my future would be in Germany, but for the last few months I’ve had nothing but problems,” Risiglione said during a break from his German class in Rostock, a city in the northeast.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of young people from struggling EU economies find themselves stranded in Germany since the government quietly stopped accepting applications for a program slated to run through 2018.
The German government confirmed that it is no longer considering new applicants for the widely advertised “The Job of my Life” program because it ran out of funds. The initiative was aimed at bringing in unemployed EU people between ages 18 to 35 to provide them with job training and future job options here. Besides picking up costs of language classes and travels, the government included payment of several hundred euros per month during the traineeship.
“We are victims of our own success,” said Marion Rang, a spokeswoman for the International Placement Service of the German Federal Employment Agency, which is in charge of the program. She added that those who are already participating in the program would be supported until they have completed their three-year-training.
But several training centers in Germany have said that some youths accepted into the program have not received any money, and others who had already participated for weeks in the program after applying have been left in the lurch.
Rang said the agency was swamped by more than 9,000 applicants since it started the program in January 2013, far more than anticipated.
“At first the program wasn’t so well known,” she said. “But only in the first three months of 2014, we received so many applications that we already spent our entire 2014 annual budget of 48 million euros ($66 million).”
After German newspapers ran reports about the halt to funds, the government announced last week that it would add another 20 million Euros to help process some open applications. But it still won’t accept any new applications for this year.
Youth unemployment has reached epic proportions in the southern European countries that have faced the brunt of the financial crisis. Spain’s youth unemployment is at more than 53 percent; Italy’s at 42.3 percent; and Greece’s at more than 56 percent. Germany, on the other hand, has one of the lowest youth unemployment rates in Europe _ 5.9 percent.
There are no precise numbers for students left stranded by the halt to the program. Risiglione’s hotel management school in Rostock said 40 of its new arrivals had not received any of the funding they had expected, and the school is currently providing free food for some of the youths.
Rang said that while Germany would continue to support all participants already in the program, youths who had come to Germany before receiving a hard promise of acceptance would most likely not get any money. She could not say how many of the 9,000 applicants had been confirmed as participants.
“We definitely wanted to reach out to our target group and help those youths,” she said. “But there was no guarantee for those who came to Germany on their own initiative.”
Educational institutions across Germany say the agency’s behavior shows that it does not understand the reality on the ground.
“The kids have always started language classes and traveled to Germany on their own account, because they expected to be reimbursed once the agency’s confirmation came through after a few weeks,” said Peter Pedersen, the manager of the HWBR school where Risiglione studies. “That’s how it’s worked in the past.”
The program was designed in part to help heal Germany’s image among southern EU nations resentful of their rich partner’s insistence on harsh austerity. Instead, said Pedersen, it has further dented Germany’s reputation.
“It’s a big PR disaster for Germany,” he said.