The paper questions the predominant view on unemployment and wages in the European Union according to which high unemployment is primarily caused by labour market rigidities, i.e. social institutions and regulations which prevent ?market-clearing? real wage levels and structures. It is shown that the foundations of that view coming either from neo-classical or new-Keynesian theory are not convincing, neither theoretically nor empirically. Analysing the developments in the EU during the last four decades, no strictly inverse relationship between real wage growth and unemployment can be found. On the contrary, persistently high unemployment has had strong adverse effects on nominal wage growth and on the labour income share. Weakened labour union bargaining power and changing collective bargaining strategies have contributed to this result. It is therefore concluded that the current EU economic and employment policies aiming at further wage restraint, wage differentiation and decentralisation of collective bargaining are deeply misguided and have to be replaced by an alternative wage policy in Europe as part of a growth and employment oriented coordination of macroeconomic policies.
European employment policy wage theory wage trends collective bargaining