The number of jobless people in the EU hit 22 million in September 2009, five million more than a year earlier, leading European leaders to be careful about agreeing a definitive date to end national measures to stimulate the economy.
While EU heads of state and government were meeting in Brussels for the European summit, Eurostat today (30 October) issued alarming unemployment figures.
According to the EU statistical office, unemployment in the euro zone reached the record rate of 9.7% in September, "the highest rate since January 1999". In absolute terms, this means that over 15 million people in the sixteen countries of the euro area are without a job.
The figure for unemployed workers reaches 22.1 million in the whole European Union, almost 300,000 more in comparison to August, and up from 17 million in September 2008.
In Spain, the most hit country in the euro zone, the jobless rate reached 19.3%, followed by Ireland (13.01%) and France (10%). In the wider EU, the situation worsened worryingly in the Baltic countries: Latvia recorded a 19.7% unemployment rate, Lithuania 13.8% and Estonia 13.3%. Moreover, figures for Lithuania and Estonia relate to June, when the economic situation was arguably better.
"As the employment situation in Europe can be expected to deteriorate further, a continued political commitment to active labour market policies is required," stressed the final conclusions of today's European summit in Brussels.
“It is necessary to take measures to support the connection to the labour market and to prevent high unemployment levels from becoming persistent, thus ensuring high employment levels and sustainable public finances in the long run," adds the document.
Taking this into account, leaders decided not to set any precise timing for the beginning of the so-called exit strategy from current stimulus measures to support the economy. On the matter, the conclusions of the summit repeat, almost word-for-word, the joint text adopted earlier this month by EU finance ministers.
However, leaders did not include the 2011 deadline to put an end to stimulus packages. "Leaders did not want to embark in clear engagements in a situation which remains vague," an EU source underlined.
This vagueness follows worrying figures issued by Eurostat, but also reflects divergent views among social actors concerning the timing for exit strategies.
Trade unions want a new stimulus package. "Europe must draw up a second recovery plan to meet the challenges it is facing in the short term," underlined European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) General-Secretary John Monks after the Tripartite Social Summit, held yesterday before the European Council.
SMEs agreed with this message, with UEAPME President Georg Toifl underlining : "It is clear to us that the crisis is not over, and that efforts to lead Europe out of it must continue."
But the federation of EU employers had a different view: "Timely and coordinated withdrawal of state interventions in the financial sector must be prepared in order to be ready once the recovery is secure," stressed Philippe de Buck, director-general of BusinessEurope.