MILAN – Protesters who tried to scale the walls of the royal palace in Naples where the European Central Bank was meeting last week embodied the frustration of 26 million jobless Europeans.
With the policymakers literally behind fortified walls, symbolically isolated from the stark realities of the economy, the 3,000 demonstrators outside expressed their anger at leaders' inability to create jobs.
"I would like to tell them that the money has to be delivered to the workers, the salaries have to be raised in order to boost the real economy," Enzo De Vincenzo, a union coordinator in Naples, said during the protest.
European Union leaders will try to show some solidarity when they meet Wednesday in Milan for a one-day summit on how to create jobs.
Expectations are low, however. Rather than any big announcements, the leaders are likely to nudge along programs start last year to find jobs for Europe's youth, nearly one-quarter of whom are jobless. They will also discuss structural reforms to relaunch growth in the eurozone and bring down unemployment, which remains near record highs at 11.5 percent.
At the center of the debate will be the growing divide between countries like Italy and France who want to slow down the pace of spending cuts to avoid hurting growth, and Germany, which has long been the main enforcer of austerity policies and budget rules.
Greater spending by governments on roads and schools can help growth. The problem is many European states — including Italy and France — have high debt they are trying to lower.
"There is no employment without growth. There is no growth without employment," Italian Premier Matteo Renzi told reporters Tuesday. "These two elements are very tied together."
Caught in the middle of the debate over the merits of austerity are the jobless, who are still struggling to find work.
Here are some voices of Europe's unemployed:
Anna Maria Zoumba stands vigil outside the tax office in the western Athens suburb of Aegaleo where she worked for 16 years. The 50-year-old mother of three is one of 595 finance ministry cleaners who lost her job in 2013 as part of austerity measures aimed at cutting public expenses.
"I had made a plan for how I would survive with that amount of money (when I was working), and suddenly I lost the ground under my feet," she says. Finding work at the age of 50 — or 55, as many of her colleagues are — "is very difficult," she notes.
Zoumba spends her days and nights with the other unemployed cleaning ladies outside a finance ministry building where they have set up a make-shift protest camp for more than 150 days. Zoumba vows not to leave until she and her colleagues get their jobs back.
INTERVIEW NO. 7
Even if government statistics indicate an improving economic picture in Spain, the situation continues to be bleak for 40-year-old Alejandro Ramirez. The unemployed purchase controller has been looking for work for nearly two years and faces losing his benefits in December.
Like many of the 6 million unemployed in Spain he feels abandoned by both the government and European leaders.
"I think that Europe is not doing absolutely anything for the unemployed at a European level and it is even more offensive here in Spain. I don't see them doing any policies that help people, no sort of social policy, no sort of help," Ramirez said.
He's had just seven job interviews since losing his last job. His latest, last week, was for a purchase controller's position north of Madrid, a job that suits Alejandro's curriculum
"I think it went very well, but it is as usual: There are lots of candidates, you don't know. They said they will call," Ramirez said.
LOST ITALIAN YOUTH
More than 3 million people are jobless in Italy, and many of the unemployed in their 40s live with the help of relatives and parents.
"It's been six years that I don't have a job," said 40-year-old Alessandra Attini as she left the employment office in Rome. Alessandra lives with her parents, supported by her father Leonardo, a government employee, who accompanied her to the employment office despite the scant chances anything would come of it.
"These guys don't have any hope because the government is not doing a good job and they are all disappointed," said 69-year old Leonardo Attini.
Theodora Tongas in Athens, Iain Sullivan in Madrid, Maria Grazia Murru in Rome and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.