By Jared Meyer
At the 8th annual European Students For Liberty Conference, held in Prague, Czech Republic, I asked students which policies make it more difficult for them to succeed in their home countries. Though I heard a diverse array of answers, one response repeatedly came up. They told me that inflexible labor markets are the main way many European governments decrease economic opportunity for their youngest residents. This inflexibility leads to high youth unemployment and leaves young people with a disproportionate share of temporary work.
The students’ complaints centered on their inability to secure long-term employment. Labor laws across the European Union do not recognize the U.S. concept of employment at-will. In the United States, if they are not discriminating, companies can fire workers for no reason at all. But employment contracts in Europe are indefinite unless the contracts are specifically set for a short period of time.
Parting ways with a worker in Europe requires lengthy, costly legal proceedings and severance pay. This may seem to benefit workers, but for young people who are trying to gain experience and establish themselves professionally, the lack of employment at-will policies places them at a disadvantage.
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