In 2009 more than six million young people, 14.4% of all 18 to 24 year olds, left education and training keeping only their lower secondary degree or less.
Brussels wants to have by 2020 at least 90% of young Europeans completing upper secondary school, according to the key objectives of the 'Europe 2020' flagship strategy to rejuvenate the European economy.
The EU commissioner in charge of education, Androulla Vassiliou, will present next Monday (31 January) a number of measures which should help member states lagging behind on education standards to achieve the EU's objectives.
Malta, Portugal and Spain are the worst off within the EU, with drop-out rates higher than 30% of total youth population.
On the other hand, eight states are already in line with the targets. In Slovakia, Slovenia, Poland and the Czech Republic, nearly 95% of people between 18 and 24 have a secondary school diploma. Luxembourg, Austria, Lithuania and Finland also fare well.
Most EU countries significantly improved their drop-out rates between 2000 and 2009. However, in Spain, Sweden and Finland, the situation is getting worse. In Sweden the drop-out rate has almost doubled to over 10% in the last decade.
"Prevention of early school leaving needs to start as early as possible by supporting children in their learning and by avoiding conditions which may trigger early leaving, such as making a pupil repeat a school year," an EU official told EurActiv.
The Commission will also propose "desegregation policies" aimed at mixing children from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds to favour the social integration of more disadvantaged pupils, who are most at risk of dropping out.
Schools and universities should also be less "impermeable", allowing students to leave and easily come back if they wish, Brussels reckons.
Next week, the EU executive will also start work on another education target set by EU ministers, that of reducing the share of pupils with difficulties in reading, maths and science to fewer than 15% by 2020.
Currently, literacy problems affect nearly 20% of 15-year-old Europeans and also many adults.
A high-level group on this specific issue will be set up next week in Brussels and will be chaired by Laurentien Brinkhorst, Princess of the Netherlands, who is a Special Envoy on Literacy for Development for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
The group should deliver its proposal by mid-2012.