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Whose Job Is It to Tackle Youth Unemployment?

A queue outside a job center in Madrid.
Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A queue outside a job center in Madrid.

Government leaders and labor ministers from the European Union (EU) gathered in Berlin on Wednesday to discuss the region's youth unemployment crisis, but politicians and business leaders were divided on where the responsibility for tackling the problem ultimately lay.

The summit comes as the unemployment rate among under-25s hit 23.1 percent in the EU and 23.9 percent in the euro zone in May, according to the EU's statistics office Eurostat.

It was highest in Greece, where it reached 59.2 percent, in Spain at 56.5 percent and in Portugal at 42.1 percent. By contrast, youth unemployment in Germany was just 7.6 percent.

The German Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, Ursula von der Leyen, told CNBC that around 80 billion euros ($103 billion) in all would be used to fight youth unemployment in the region, including the 6 billion euros ($7.8 billion) EU officials pledged to tackle the problem when they met in Brussels last week.

But she stressed that what was crucial was how the money it was invested, and whether business was prepared to get involved in training young people.

"It's not only the number that is relevant, it is [a case of] where do you want to invest this money," von der Leyen told CNBC on Tuesday. "It's got to be efficient."

For the first time, labor ministers, finance ministers and the heads of public employment services were discussing the issue at one table, she said, which should give the program a better chance of success.

(Read More: Youth Unemployment Could 'Scar' an Entire Generation)

The extra funds, which will be taken from unused EU social funds and European Investment Bank loans to small and medium-sized enterprises, will be invested in three key areas, von der Leyen said: employment mobility, "durable" vocational training for young people and skills-based education to enable the next generation to "fight the credit crunch in southern European countries."

She emphasized that it was in the interest of the European business sector to cooperate with the program by offering training to young people. "If they do not train the young generation right now, we will have a huge lack of skilled labor in the next generation. For our own future we need them to do this."

Political Will Lacking?

But the deputy chief executive of the German Chambers of Commerce said a lack of "political will" and no clear guidelines over the implementation of training programs could obstruct attempts to tackle youth unemployment.

"The biggest obstacle is the political will to gather the different interests and [knowing] which person from the company is responsible for building up such a system," Volker Treier told CNBC in Berlin. "It is also a proposal from Germany and right now, Germany is not bringing the best mood into other European countries."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called on other euro zone countries to adopt a "dual education" system, combining apprenticeships at companies with vocational training in schools. However, Treier said that more immediate reforms were needed.

"We have to curb our expectations. If we really were to introduce such a system like the education and training system that we have in Germany, this is a really structural reform and it will take time to have viable fruit. Our concern right now is that much more emphasis is put today on short-term measures," he said.

European Policies Need to Change

Meanwhile, the EU commissioner for employment Laszlo Andor said that joblessness in Europe was closely related to the tough austerity measures implemented throughout the region.

(Read More: EU Leaders Clinch Deals on Banks, Budget, Youth Jobless)

"The problem of youth employment cannot be separated from the macro-economic conditions," Andor told CNBC in Berlin on Wednesday. "Indeed it's true that at the moment we don't have the right macro-economic policy mix of policies for a sustainable recovery in the so-called deficit countries where a lot of fiscal and financial adjustment has taken place."

"That's where there is a need for more progress and more consistency with the employment objectives on the one hand and the budgetary decision and the recovery strategy coordinated and at this point it's probably not all there."

(Read More: Austerity Fueling Youth Unemployment: Labor Organization)

He added that Europe needed "new measures" to be brought forward, such as banking union, to ensure better financing conditions for growth in the euro zone peripheral countries.

After German elections in September, Andor said Europe needed to have a more comprehensive discussion about the euro zone crisis and how to reform its "social dimension."

-By CNBC's Holly Ellyatt, folow her on Twitter @HollyEllyatt

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