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Merkel opponent derides jobless summit as cynical ploy

German Chancellor Angela Merkel frowns during a visit to technology company Trumpf in Ditzingen, near Stuttgart July 2, 2013. REUTERS/Michae
German Chancellor Angela Merkel frowns during a visit to technology company Trumpf in Ditzingen, near Stuttgart July 2, 2013. REUTERS/Michae

By Stephen Brown and Holger Hansen

BERLIN (Reuters) - Angela Merkel's summit on youth unemployment in Europe is an attempt to paper over the economic consequences of the austerity policies she championed in the region, a leading member of Germany's opposition Social Democrats (SPD) said on Tuesday.

Andrea Nahles, General Secretary of the SPD and manager of the center-left party's campaign to unseat Merkel in a September election, said the chancellor had already held several "show summits" on a range of issues that yielded no results.

"I don't think Merkel's 49th summit will help," said Nahles in an interview with Reuters. "She is now driving around Europe in an ambulance handing out band-aids for the injuries she has caused with her own policies."

With unemployment in the euro zone at a record high above 12 percent, Merkel will gather the leaders and labor ministers of more than 20 EU nations in Berlin from about 2 p.m. local time (8:00 a.m. EDT) on Wednesday.

The stated aim is to agree efficient ways to spend the 6 billion euros ($7.82 billion) EU leaders have allocated to fight youth unemployment in 2014 and 2015, as part of a new "Youth Guarantee" to provide jobs, training and apprenticeships.

For the first three years of the euro crisis, Merkel insisted that struggling members like Greece and Spain make deep spending cuts to reduce their deficits in exchange for aid.

In recent months, as unemployment in southern Europe has soared, Merkel has adjusted her rhetoric, emphasizing the need for growth and jobs.

She points to her record on defending jobs in Germany, where unemployment is close to post-reunification lows at 6.8 percent, thanks partly to labor market reforms.

Nahles, seen as a left-winger within the SPD, told Reuters the best way to reverse the rise in unemployment was "to change the German government" which she said had forced the EU to focus on public-sector savings as the way out of the debt crisis.

"We will only reverse the trend in countries with over 50 percent youth unemployment like Spain or Greece, or 40 percent in Italy, when we change overall economic policy in the European Union," she added.

"Frau Merkel has subjected the EU to a tough savings diktat. She is the chief savings kommissar and forgot there also has to be growth and demand," said the SPD's second-in-command.

The 150-year-old SPD is gunning for a ruling coalition with the resurgent Greens. But polls suggest its best hope of returning to government may be to revive the 2005-2009 'grand coalition' under Merkel.

Her finance minister in that government, Peer Steinbrueck, is now running against her but faces an uphill battle.

Support for the SPD currently stands at around 25 percent with the Greens on about 14 percent. Merkel's CDU and their CSU Bavarian allies score just over 40 percent.

(Additional reporting by Noah Barkin and Matthias Baehr; Writing by Stephen Brown; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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