Groundswell of anger over EU austerity

Protesters who picketed the European Central Bank on May 31 are planning a second day of action in European cities as anger grows over austerity measures that many blame for taking eurozone unemployment to an all-time high.

In rain and strong winds, members of the Blockupy movement cut off access to the ECB's Frankfurt headquarters. Their action came as official figures showed eurozone unemployment hit a new high last month with young people again the hardest hit – almost one in four are now out of work.

Unemployment in the crisis-stricken currency bloc rose to 12.2% for April, according to Eurostat, the statistics office of the European Union.

In Frankfurt, protesters blamed the troika of institutions it says is pushing austerity measures on southern Europe: the ECB, the EU and the International Monetary Fund.

Blockupy's Roland Suss said: "It's an expression of our solidarity with the people in southern Europe whose existence is threatened by the austerity programmes."

Blockupy, a European version of the Occupy Wall Street movement, put the number of activists blocking the ECB at 3 000.

There was a more conservative estimate of between 1 000 and 1 500 from police, who used pepper spray to prevent the protesters from breaking into the central bank's high-rise building. Protesters also targeted Deutsche Bank's headquarters and Frankfurt's airport. The movement and other anti-austerity groups are threatening rallies throughout European cities on Saturday, including London.

France and Germany responded with a new jobs plan but labour market experts warn that any measures will take time to turn the tide after 24 consecutive monthly rises in the jobless level.

"An end to the eurozone labour market downturn is not yet in sight," said Martin van Vliet, at ING Financial Markets. "Even if the eurozone economy exits from recession later this year, the labour market is likely to remain in recession until next year."

In the wider EU area, unemployment stood at 11%, as the rate rose in all but nine countries compared with a year earlier. The biggest rises in overall joblessness on a year ago were in Greece, Cyprus, Spain and Portugal.

Youth unemployment in Spain is 56.4%, in Portugal 42.5%. Italy recorded its highest overall unemployment rate since records began in 1977, at 12%, with youth joblessness at 40.5%. Economists said that the rise in unemployment was fairly broad-based with rises in so-called core countries as well, including Belgium and the Netherlands. The rate in France was 11%.

Biggest falls in unemployment
Howard Archer, economist at IHS Global Insight, said: "About the only positive spin that could be put on the eurozone unemployment data is that the rise has shown some signs of slowing overall in recent months."

Ireland recorded one of the biggest falls in unemployment, down to 13.5% from 14.9% a year ago. That compares with a rate of 7.7% for the United Kingdom, where youth unemployment is 20.2%. The lowest rates for youth unemployment were in Germany at 7.5% and Austria at 8%.

Gary Browning, chief executive of Penna, a human resources group, said there were some structural reasons for the low rates. "The way apprenticeships and vocational training work in Germany is fundamentally different; it is part of employers' mentality … there is a feeling that mid-sized companies have a moral obligation to train apprentices."

The EU's latest plans to tackle youth unemployment include more apprenticeships under the so-called youth guarantee scheme to offer all under-25s a job, further education or training within four months of leaving education or of losing a job. — © Guardian News & Media 2013

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