Italy urges fast EU action on youth unemployment

Italy's new premier urged the European Union on Monday to act quickly to tackle the problem of high youth unemployment, calling for it top the agenda at a summit of EU leaders next month.

"I think youth unemployment really has to be at the centre of everything. It can't be that political leaders see as normal that one in two, or one in three, European youths don't work," Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta said at a joint news conference with his Spanish counterpart Mariano Rajoy.

"This can't be, this is not normal, this is unsustainable, it is impossible. The fight against youth unemployment must be our obsession. Without work the youths of out continent don't have hope."

One out of four under-25s, or 23.5 percent, was unemployed in the 27-nation European Union in March, but almost two in three were in Greece and Spain, according to new figures released last week by Eurostat, the EU statistics agency.

In Greece the jobless figure for youths stood at a whopping 59.1 percent in January, the latest available figure, and in March hit 55.9 percent in Spain, 38.4 percent in Italy and 38.3 percent in Portugal.

Letta, who was sworn in as Italy's new prime minister last month after a two-month political impasse, said it would be "unforgivable" if the European Union's 27 leaders failed to come up with concrete measures to fight youth unemployment at the June 27-28 summit.

Both Letta and Rajoy urged the 17 countries that use the euro currency to move swiftly toward completing a full banking union to stabilise the bloc's financial sector and called on the EU to do more to spur economic growth.

The Italian premier said he believes solutions that will be good for countries in southern Europe whose economies are contracting will be good for the entire continent as a whole, including Germany.

As European Union's biggest economy, Germany fears a banking union might mean new costs to bail out ailing banks in other European nations. Berlin has pushed member states to focus on austerity to rein in ballooning public deficits.

"I am certain that Germany can understand that this effort is in favour of Europe and therefore in favour of Germany. If internal demand in all European nations disappears then no one on their own will be spared," said Letta.

"We are all in the same boat, the common European market, and it is in all of our interests for growth to be encouraged and unemployment to come down," he added.