IN the five years since the outbreak of the financial crisis, the EU's response has largely been a fiscal one – with budgets the bottom line. I've long argued that there must also be a social response, so that the effects of the crisis on our people are lessened.
Nowhere is the need for a social response more evident than when it comes to the issue of youth unemployment.
Five years since the financial crash, 7.5 million young people aged between 15 and 24 across the EU are not in employment, education or training. They represent 12.9pc of all young Europeans.
This is nothing less than an existential crisis for the EU.
But now, I'm glad to say, there has been a breakthrough, with member states agreeing on a major initiative to respond to this crisis.
At a meeting last week of EU social protection ministers, which I chaired as part of Ireland's EU presidency, agreement was reached on a youth guarantee following months of patient negotiations.
Once implemented, the guarantee will assure young people under the age of 25 of a good quality offer of employment, continued education, apprenticeship or traineeship within four months of becoming unemployed.
The idea is simple, but implementation won't be.
Although €6bn in funding will be made available from the EU budget for youth employment initiatives, including the youth guarantee, between 2014 and 2020, this is still a daunting financial and administrative commitment.
If we agreed the framework, all of us as individual member states now have to figure out the funding and workload implications.
The youth guarantee is hugely ambitious, and implementing it will be arduous.
But it's unquestionably the right commitment, and as the old saying goes, where there's a will, there's a way.
It's worth finding that way, because youth guarantees have been shown to work when they have been implemented.
Finland has had a youth guarantee system in place for some time. The European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions found that, in 2011, 83.5pc of young Finnish jobseekers received an intervention within three months of registering as unemployed.
Statistical evidence confirmed that the Finnish youth guarantee had accelerated the pace at which personalised plans for young jobseekers were drawn up, and had resulted in a reduction in unemployment.
This is highly encouraging and shows why an EU youth guarantee could make such a difference. The agreement recommends that each member state should move quickly to implement youth guarantees in their respective countries, taking into account existing policies and objectives.
Member states experiencing the most severe budgetary difficulties – such as Ireland – will be allowed to implement the youth guarantee on a phased basis. This will allow us to continue to rectify our budgetary problems while still acting in a decisive way to tackle youth unemployment.
There will be those who say we can't afford to implement the youth guarantee given the additional investment that it will inevitably require.
I say we can't afford not to implement it, and the following will demonstrate why: The EU estimates that the economic cost of youth unemployment at around 1.2pc of GDP, or more than €150bn.
The youth guarantee will help reduce youth unemployment and in the long term lower that cost, improving the budgetary position of member states and the EU as a whole.
Of course, none of this will happen overnight – given the fact that Ireland is still in a bailout programme, progress is going to take time.
In that sense, the youth guarantee won't be a miracle cure. But it will be a step in the right direction, and at long last, will offer our young people hope.
Joan Burton is Minister for Social Protection.