EU conservatives want focus on youth unemployment

European Union conservatives agreed Thursday that next week's summit of the bloc's leaders should focus on what European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso called the "urgent" problem of youth unemployment.

"Urgent action is needed because there are unacceptably high levels of youth unemployment in Europe," Barroso said after a meeting in Vienna of members of the European People's Party including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"I am very happy that now the leaders of the European Union, at the highest level, have decided to put this as a priority, and I expect concrete decisions to be adopted" at the June 27-28 summit, he said.

According to Eurostat, the unemployment rate for under-25s in the 27-nation EU was 23.5 percent in April, with Greece the highest at 62.5 percent, followed by Spain on 56.4 percent, 42.5 percent in Portugal and 40.5 percent in Italy.

The Commission, Barroso said, wanted to make available in 2014-2015 some six billion euros ($8.0 billion) earmarked for a seven-year period in order to tackle the problem, including "action teams" to assist member states.

Barroso also said that EPP leaders, who also include Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny and Greek premier Antonis Samaras, also want the summit to take measures to unlock financing for small and medium-sized businesses.

Barroso denied meanwhile that leaders of bloc, still beset with major problems in the wake of the eurozone debt crisis, would shy away from major decisions until after German elections in September.