The European Parliament (EP) called Thursday for stronger measures to fight youth unemployment, including common minimum standards for apprenticeships and decent wages.
In a resolution passed on Thursday, approved by 502 votes to 112 against with 22 abstentions, members (MEPs) said European Union (EU) funding of employment-related programmes should also be increased in future budgets.
"Sustainable economic growth is impossible without reducing inequalities," the text of the resolution stated.
It warned that youth unemployment had reached unprecedented levels, averaging 23 percent across the EU, with peaks of over 50 percent in some member states, particularly in southern countries hardest hit by the debt crisis. Altogether, 5.3 million Europeans under 25 years old are unemployed.
MEPs said the European Commission (EC) should 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.
EU funding for the Youth Employment Initiative, currently 6 billion euros (8.2 billion U.S. dollars), also needs to be increased, the resolution added.
A debate before the resolution highlighted the divide between the various political groups in the EP.
The centre-right EPP group's spokesman on employment and social affairs David Casa argued that the best way to curb unemployment is to encourage start-ups, "imbue entrepreneurial" spirit in young people and create an environment in which small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can thrive.
For the centre-left, S&D spokeswoman on social affairs Jutta Steinruck commented: "For many years now the Socialists and Democrats have been calling for stronger, more targeted action to make a real difference, including investment to boost growth, create jobs and make the youth guarantee work for young people."
"Too little has been done so far. The 6 billion euros for the youth guarantee is not enough. The member states must be given support to put it into practice. We need to make sure that further money is available after 2016," said Steinruck.
Additional measures at national level could include discouraging young people from dropping out of school, promoting training and apprenticeships, and comprehensive strategies for those who are not in employment, education or training.
Member states should also use the European Social Fund or the Erasmus+ program, which funds education and training, to finance projects that promote entrepreneurship, said MEPs.
But the resolution also underlined the importance for young people of acquiring skills that would make them more employable, such as 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 labor market," it stated