The Caithness Courier, August 2014
Every six months, a different Member State of the European Union (EU) has the position of ‘presidency’ of the EU Council. In July this year the position switched from Greece to Italy who will now have it until Latvia take over in January next year.
There are a lot of ‘councils’ in Europe and there are three with almost the same name, so for the average reader confusing them is highly likely, but Italy’s present presidency is of the Council of the EU, also referred to as the EU Council or the Council of Ministers. It is made up of the ministers from each member state with responsibility for the policy area under discussion.
What Italy will now be busy doing is taking on the responsibility for driving forward the Council's work on EU legislation, determining agendas and setting a work programme until the end of the year. Italy will also be chairing Council meetings and working with committees dealing with very specific subjects.
At the beginning of a presidency, the new incumbent sets out their country’s priorities for the next six months. Italy’s ministers have at the top of their list the issue that is absorbing every European politician, not to mention millions of under 25s: unemployment.
Youth unemployment is the ‘stand out’ first priority for the new presidency. Youth unemployment has reached unprecedented levels, averaging 23% across the EU, with peaks of over 50% in some member states. Altogether, 5.3 million Europeans under 25 years old are unemployed.
At the final Plenary before the Parliament’s recess, there was a resolution passed calling for stronger measures to fight unemployment among young people, including common minimum standards for apprenticeships and decent wages and for EU funding of employment-related programmes to be increased in future budgets. The resolution stressed the responsibility of the Commission to closely monitor the implementation of the “youth guarantee schemes” launched last year and propose minimum standards for the quality of apprenticeships, wage levels and access to employment services. It was also felt that EU funding for the Youth Employment Initiative, currently €6 billion, needs to be increased.
Also underlined was the importance for young people of acquiring knowledge of information technologies, leadership skills, critical thinking and languages. Member states considering the likely future structure of their economies should give priority to science, technology, engineering and mathematics in their educational programmes, since these profiles will probably be in greatest demand on the labour market.
It was also felt that education needs to be tailored to meet Labour market needs and that measures at national level could include those to discourage young people from dropping out of school, promoting training and apprenticeships.
Finally, MEPs called on member states to encourage job creation by reducing the administrative burdens for the self-employed, micro-enterprises and small and medium-sized enterprises, and to introduce favourable tax policies to establish a more favourable climate for private investment.
It will be interesting to see how Italy succeeds in these ambitious goals during its presidency.