Jobless youth may be 'Europe's biggest problem': Merkel

BERLIN (AFP) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday that record youth unemployment is "perhaps the most pressing problem facing Europe" and warned of the threat of a "lost generation", speaking on the eve of a meeting on the crisis.

With more than half of under 25 year olds out of work in Greece, Spain and elsewhere, Ms Merkel was on Wednesday due to host a meeting with some 20 European heads of state and government on ways to tackle the mass joblessness.

Speaking to a group of six newspapers, Ms Merkel - whose push for budgetary discipline is blamed by some critics for stifling a recovery in the eurozone - said that "when things start to become dysfunctional, it is the job of politicians to remedy the situation".

"Youth unemployment has been much too high in some countries for many years and now the crisis has driven it even higher," Britain's Guardian newspaper quoted her as saying.

"That is unsustainable on a continent with an ageing population. We must not allow there to be a lost generation," she warned about Europe's almost six million under-25s out of work.

Ms Merkel, who will seek a third term in September 22 elections, also said that those who were not to blame for the crisis were paying the highest price.

"I am sorry that it is often those who had absolutely nothing to do with those wrong turnings, the young or the poor, who bear the brunt of the hardship today," she said.

"It is highly regrettable that parts of the economic elite assume so little responsibility for the deplorable situation." Ms Merkel also said that Germany, with a low youth unemployment rate of 7.6 per cent, could share lessons from its dual system that combines on-the-job and academic training in apprenticeships.

"We in Germany have learned a lot from successfully reducing unemployment by means of structural reform since reunification and we can now bring that experience to bear."

She said that "we should not just try to make our young people more academic ... Germany is seeing the positive effects of skilled workers and master craftsmen having an excellent reputation too."