Some 7.5 million young Europeans between 15 and 24 are either unemployed or left out of the education or training systems, according to the Commission, and more than one in five young Europeans on the labour market can't find a job. In Greece and Spain figures are as high as 50%.
The Commission's youth unemployment package, unveiled on Wednesday (5 December), features a so-called "Youth Guarantee", a tool which has proved successful in countries like Finland, Austria and Sweden.
"It's clear that the eurozone crisis is driving up unemployment and the young generation is the worst hit. The situation is clearly unacceptable and we must take action," László Andor, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, told a news conference on Wednesday.
The Commission's package includes a recommendation for EU countries on introducing a youth guarantee scheme to ensure that young adults receive a quality job offer, continued education, an apprenticeship or an internship within four months of leaving formal education or becoming unemployed.
The guarantee's main objective is to ensure smoother transitions from school to work. It requires states to establish strong partnerships with the education system, training providers, public employment services and youth associations to ensure early intervention.
In Finland, 83.5% of young job seekers received a successful intervention within three months of registering as unemployed in 2011. The Finnish Youth Guarantee has resulted in a reduction in unemployment.
"Indeed, a youth guarantee has of course a fiscal cost for many member states. However, the costs of not acting are far higher," Andor said.
Young Spaniards hit particularly hard
Paula Espinosa Giménez, a university student from Valencia, described the situation for young people in Spain as "tough". She said most of the young Spanish people are unemployed and those who have a job are very worried they are going to lose it.
Many companies are closing and cutting back on staff and the public sector doesn’t hire anymore. Banks don't lend any credit, so it’s very hard to create a new enterprise and become self-employed, Giménez told EurActiv.
"Most of the young Spanish people that I know who are employed work in another country because it’s very hard to find a job which corresponds with their qualification," she said.
Giménez already has one degree in political science and administration, but she has decided to continue with her studies while at the same time looking for a job.
David del Pino Migallon, who holds a university degree in architectural techniques, has been unable to find a job since he became unemployed earlier this year. He said he was now considering taking a job he would be over-qualified for or a job that he wouldn't like.
"I have no hope that the unemployment situation improves, so I do not believe in being hired by a company. Actually, I am trying to find new skills, looking for new ideas to start my own business," del Pino Migallon said.
The high cost of youth unemployment
Andor stressed that youth unemployment is expensive. It costs member states €153 billion per year in terms of benefits paid and loss of tax revenue and earnings, or 1.2% of EU GDP, according to Eurofound.
Some countries - such as Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia and Poland - are paying 2% or more of their GDP on allowances. Avoiding these economic costs now and in the future outweighs by far the fiscal costs of the proposed employment guarantee, the Commission argues.
In addition to the long-term cost of unemployment to the economy and to society, the individuals concerned have an increased risk of future unemployment and poverty.
"The cost of doing nothing is therefore very high and let's be clear; youth guarantee schemes are investments," Andor said.
He added that the Commission is ready and willing to make substantial financial contributions to the European Social Fund and other EU funding mechanisms. The amount will depend on the outcome of the negotiations on EU's long-term budget (2014-2020).