Commission launches Youth Opportunities Initiative

The European Commission Youth Opportunities Initiative, launched on 20 December 2011, is aimed at tackling youth unemployment in the European Union. It supports helping unemployed and inactive young people into stable work or training by encouraging better targeting of funds; boosting apprenticeships and traineeships and promoting youth mobility. This supports schemes to ensure young people are in work, education or training within four months of leaving school.


Youth unemployment is a growing concern in the EU as the economic downturn continues. In October 2011 the unemployment rate (25Kb PDF) among those aged 15 to 24 in the EU27 was 22%. Some countries are particularly badly affected, such as Spain with 49% youth unemployment and Greece with 45%. A further concern is that young people who successfully find work may be employed on temporary or part-time contracts.

The Youth Opportunities Initiative (301Kb PDF) builds on other European schemes supporting young people, such as Youth on the Move (1.4Mb PDF). It also reflects the Europe 2020 strategy and previous European Council deliberations on reducing youth unemployment (97Kb PDF) and early school leaving.

Goals of the initiative

The Youth Opportunities Initiative aims to help young people who are not in work, education or training, by providing the means for them to acquire skills and experience. These may be gained through a return to school, entry to training, or work experience including volunteering. The initiative combines new direct financing from the Commission with guidance and reinforcement of existing schemes.

Boosting training and experience for young people

  • The Commission will commit €4 million to help member states set up Youth Guarantee schemes. These aim to ensure that young people are in a job, education or (re)training within four months of leaving school.
  • The initiative aims to increase the supply of apprenticeships in the EU, and also calls for increased promotion of apprenticeships and trainee contracts. €1.3 million will be dedicated to setting up more training of this type.
  • Schemes for young people starting businesses or social enterprises will attract €3 million through European Social Fund Technical Assistance.
  • A framework promoting high quality traineeships will be presented in 2012.

Promoting youth mobility

The mobility of students engaged in higher education and vocational training will be encouraged. Funding will be focused on providing placements under the Erasmus and Leonardo da Vinci programmes. The Initiative also aims to promote young people’s mobility in the labour market.

  • €1.5 million will be spent on a campaign to encourage enterprises to host Erasmus and Leonardo da Vinci placements.
  • The Commission proposes that use of EURES, the European jobs database, should be intensified by Member States with the intention that at least 100,000 EURES jobs are filled by young people.
  • A pilot scheme, ‘Your first EURES job’, will provide financial help for young people who fill vacancies in other Member States in 2012–13.
  • will finance approximately 600 more exchanges in 2012.
  • At least 10,000 volunteering opportunities are to be created in 2012 through boosting the European Voluntary Service (133Kb PDF) budget. This service targets 18–30s and promotes skill acquisition through full-time volunteering in a foreign country.

Member States encouraged to take action

The initiative emphasises the importance of the role of Member States in pushing actions through, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity. The Communication announcing the initiative highlights the fact that some Member States could target young people by making fuller use of the European Social Fund (ESF). Member States still have €30 billion available in ESF programmes, because this money has not yet been committed to specific activities. In particular, the use of the ESF for youth initiatives in Greece, Italy and Lithuania is not proportionate to the levels of youth unemployment.

Nations that are already making use of the ESF, meanwhile, are encouraged to ensure that programmes are well-targeted, and to boost youth awareness of and participation in the programmes.

Plans to strengthen future policy

Future actions to improve policy relating to youth employment are listed in the Communication in which the Initiative is outlined. Accordingly, the Commission will initiate debate with the Member States individually, to prepare for the 2012 European Semester of economic governance. Under the European Semester process, Member States’ efforts in tackling youth unemployment and inactivity will be assessed and the Commission will report on this to the informal meeting of the Council of Employment and Social Affairs Ministers in April 2012. Guidance will be given to Member States during preparations for the National Reform Programmes 2012, and through further country-specific recommendations in May 2012.

Rose Martin, Institute for Employment Studies

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