European Neighbourhood Policy - South - labour market statistics

Data extracted in December 2019.

Planned article update: March 2022.


With the exception of Israel, female activity rates across the European Neighbourhood Policy-South countries were considerably lower than those in the EU.

The gender gap in employment rates was larger in the European Neighbourhood Policy-South countries than in the EU, except in Israel.

With the exception of Israel, agriculture, forestry and fishing as well as construction accounted for a higher share of the workforce in European Neighbourhood Policy-South countries than they did in the EU.

Activity rates (persons aged 15-64 years), 2018
(% of total population)
Source: Eurostat (lfsi_emp_a)

This article is part of an online publication and provides data on some key characteristics of labour markets in 8 of the 10 countries that form the European Neighbourhood Policy-South (ENP-South) region — Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine [1] and Tunisia; no recent data for Libya or Syria. The article presents, among others, indicators such as activity rates, employment rates, an analysis of employment by economic activity, and statistics in relation to unemployment for the ENP-South countries and the European Union (EU).

Full article

Activity rates

The participation of women in the labour force in the ENP-South countries is generally low, although some countries have a range of initiatives designed to promote, empower and mobilise women’s participation. It should also be noted that many women work within the family unit in these countries and there may be difficulties in measuring their labour input for official statistics, for example, when working in a family business or helping with agricultural activities.

In 2018, the EU-28 activity rate for women was 68.3 % (see Figure 1). Apart from Israel, where the rate was 69.2 %, the female activity rate in the ENP-South countries was consistently much lower than in the EU-28. Fewer than 3 in 10 of all women of working age were active in the labour force in the remaining ENP-South countries as female activity rates ranged from 29.5 % in Tunisia (2019 data) to 14.5 % in Jordan (2015 data).

Figure 1: Activity rates
(persons aged 15-64 years), 2018
(% of total population)
Source: Eurostat (lfsi_emp_a)

These differences were in stark contrast to the rates recorded for men. The EU-28 male activity rate stood at 79.2 % in 2018, while the latest rates among the ENP-South countries were — with the exception of Jordan where the rate was 65.0 % (2015 data) — within 10 percentage points of this. The highest male activity rate was recorded in Morocco, 76.4 % (2017 data), with rates of 74.0 % or higher also recorded in Israel, Palestine and Tunisia (2019 data).

Employment rates

There was a narrowing of the employment gender gap in the EU-28 between 2008 and 2018, from 14 percentage points to 11 points (see Figure 2). With the exception of Israel (where the gap between the sexes was narrower than in the EU-28), employment rates for women ranged from 42 to 51 points lower than those for men in the remaining ENP-South countries for which data are available: Tunisia (2019 data), Palestine, Morocco (2017 data), Algeria (2017 data) and Egypt.

Figure 2: Gender gap for employment rates
(persons aged 15-64 years), 2008 and 2018
(percentage points difference, male employment rate - female employment rate)
Source: Eurostat (lfsi_emp_a)

Analysis of employment by economic activity

Table 1 shows an analysis of the structure of employment for 2008 and 2018. Within the EU-28, the services sector dominated the labour market and accounted for 72.1 % of those employed (aged 15 years or more) in 2018; its share of the total number of persons employed rose by 4.6 percentage points between 2008 and 2018. In Israel, 81.8 % of the workforce was employed in services, with the next highest share among the ENP-South countries being considerably lower, 62.4 % in Palestine. Among the six ENP-South countries for which data are available, the lowest share of services in the workforce was recorded in Morocco, at just over two fifths (42.2 %; 2017 data).

Table 1: Analysis of employment
(persons aged 15 years or more) by economic activity, 2008 and 2018
(% of total employment)
Source: Eurostat (lfsa_egana) and (lfsa_egan2)

Five of the six ENP-South countries for which recent data are available reported shares for industry in their total workforces that were below the EU-28 average (17.2 %; 2018 data). The 11.7 % share in Morocco (2017 data) was the lowest of these, while the 18.3 % share in Tunisia (2019 data) was the only one above the EU-28 average.

Consequently, the employment shares of construction as well as agriculture, forestry and fishing in the ENP-South countries were generally higher than in the EU-28; the one exception was Israel which recorded smaller shares for both of these activities in 2018. More than one third (35.1 %; 2017 data) of the workforce in Morocco and one fifth of the workforce in Egypt (21.6 %) were employed in agriculture, forestry and fishing. The highest shares of the workforce in construction were recorded for Palestine (17.7 %) and Algeria (17.0 %; 2017 data) and construction also employed more than one tenth of the workforce in Tunisia (2019 data), Egypt and Morocco (2017 data).

The share of the workforce in agriculture, forestry and fishing fell between 2008 and 2018 in the EU-28 as it did between the years shown in Table 1 for all four of the ENP-South countries with a long time series available: Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Palestine. The share of the labour force employed in services expanded in three of these four countries, as the only decline was recorded for Palestine between 2008 and 2018. The shares employed in industry and construction also increased in three of the countries, with Morocco (2008-2017) the only exception for industry and Algeria (2008-2017) the only exception for construction.

Unemployment rates

While the EU-28’s largest contraction in economic activity as a result of the global financial and economic crisis was recorded in 2009, labour markets often lag, and as a result it was not uncommon to see unemployment rates continuing to increase in 2010 and beyond. Having increased between 2008 and 2010, the unemployment rate for the EU-28 was unchanged between 2010 and 2011 (9.6 %), after which it increased to 10.8 % in 2013, before dropping back to 6.9 % by 2018.

Among the five ENP-South countries for which a time series of unemployment data is available, Egypt reported a broadly similar development, with its unemployment rate rising from 8.7 % in 2008 to 13.2 % by 2013, before dropping back to 10.0 % in 2018. In Palestine, the unemployment rate fell between 2008 and 2011 before increasing through to 2014, dipping in 2015 and then increasing again to reach 30.8 % in 2018: throughout this whole period the unemployment rate in Palestine remained high, always in excess of 20 %. In Morocco, the unemployment rate fell at a modest pace, down from 9.6 % in 2008 to 9.0 % in 2011, before increasing to 10.0 % by 2014, falling back in 2015 and 2016 and then increasing again in 2017. In Algeria, the unemployment rate was relatively stable, ranging between 9.8 % and 11.7 % every year from 2008 to 2017. The time series for Israel is shorter but shows a clear downward pattern from a rate of 6.9 % in 2012 to 4.0 % in 2018. Based on the latest information available in Table 2, only Israel — among the ENP-South countries — recorded a lower unemployment rate than the EU-28.

Table 2: Unemployment rates
(persons aged 15-74 years), 2008-2018
(% of labour force)
Source: Eurostat (lfsa_urgan)

Long-term unemployment rates (as presented in Table 3 for persons aged 15-74 years) are often cited as a key concern for policymakers, affecting social cohesion and, ultimately, economic growth. By 2018, the long-term unemployment rate of the EU-28 had dropped back to 2.8 % for men and 3.0 % for women. Israel was the only ENP-South country (among the five for which recent comparable data are available) that did not have higher long-term unemployment rates than the EU-28 in 2017 or 2018.

Table 3: Long-term unemployment rates
(persons aged 15-74 years), 2008-2018
(% of labour force)
Source: Eurostat (une_ltu_a)

In the EU-28, long-term unemployment rates for men and for women were slightly higher in 2018 than they had been in 2008. In Israel the latest long-term unemployment rates for 2018 were clearly lower than those at the beginning of the series shown in Table 3, whereas in Egypt the rates had clearly increased. In Algeria and Palestine, the situation was mixed, with lower rates for men in 2017 (Algeria) or 2018 (Palestine) than in 2008 while the rates for women had increased during the same period.

Unemployment rates analysed by educational attainment

In many developed world economies, including the EU-28, it is relatively common to find lower unemployment rates among the workforce with higher levels of educational attainment. In other words, an investment in education and training appears to reduce the risk of unemployment. A similar pattern was observed in Israel (see Table 4), where the unemployment rate in 2018 among those with a tertiary level of education was 2.7 %, considerably lower than the rate recorded for those with at most a lower secondary level of education (4.9 %).

Table 4: Analysis of unemployment rates
(persons aged 15-74 years) by level of educational attainment, 2008 and 2018
(% of labour force)
Source: Eurostat (lfsa_urgaed)

By contrast, unemployment rates for those with a tertiary level of education reached a level in excess of one tenth of the labour force in the remaining four ENP-South countries for which data are available. In Egypt, Morocco (2017 data), Tunisia (2019 data) and Palestine, the highest unemployment rates analysed by educational attainment were recorded for those with a tertiary level of education. These differences may, at least in part, be explained by the difficulties faced by educated women in finding work in some of these countries, but may also be compounded by a higher proportion of jobs being concentrated in areas of the economy that are characterised as having relatively low productivity or a low level of skills. The highest unemployment rate among people with a tertiary level of education was recorded in Palestine (30.7 %).

Data sources

The data for ENP-South countries are supplied by and under the responsibility of the national statistical authorities of each country on a voluntary basis. The data that are presented in this article result from an annual data collection cycle that has been established by Eurostat. No recent data are available from either Libya or Syria. These statistics are available free-of-charge on Eurostat’s website, together with a range of different indicators covering most socio-economic areas.

Tables in this article use the following notation:

Value in italics     data value is forecasted, provisional or estimated and is therefore likely to change;
: not available, confidential or unreliable value;
not applicable.


Labour market statistics are increasingly used to support policymaking and to provide an opportunity to monitor participation in the labour market. In the aftermath of the global financial and economic crisis, these statistics have been used to monitor the knock-on effects of the crisis and subsequent recovery on labour markets which commonly lag behind fluctuations in economic output.

In March 2010, the European Commission launched the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. One of the headline targets for the strategy was to raise the employment rate for women and men aged 20-64 years old to 75 % by 2020. EU Member States could set their own national targets in the light of these headline targets and draw up national reform programmes that included the actions they aimed to undertake in order to implement the strategy.

The slow pace of recovery from the financial and economic crisis in the EU and mounting evidence of rising unemployment led the European Commission to make a set of proposals on 18 April 2012 for measures to boost jobs through a dedicated employment package. In December 2012, in the face of high and still rising youth unemployment in several EU Member States, the European Commission proposed a Youth employment package (COM(2012) 727 final). Efforts to reduce youth unemployment continued in 2013 as the European Commission presented a Youth employment initiative (COM(2013) 144 final) designed to reinforce and accelerate measures outlined in the Youth employment package. It aimed to support, in particular, young people not in education, employment or training in regions with a youth unemployment rate above 25 %. There followed another Communication Working together for Europe's young people — A call to action on youth unemployment (COM(2013) 447 final) which was designed to accelerate the implementation of the youth guarantee and provide help to EU Member States and businesses so they could recruit more young people.

In June 2016, the European Commission adopted a Skills Agenda for Europe (COM(2016) 381/2) under the heading ‘Working together to strengthen human capital, employability and competitiveness’. This was intended to ensure that people develop the skills necessary for now and the future, in order to boost employability, competitiveness and growth across the EU.

On 18 November 2015, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the European Commission jointly presented a review of the European Neighbourhood Policy (SWD(2015) 500 final) which underlined a new approach for the EU in relation to its eastern and southern neighbours, based on stabilising the region in political, economic, and security-related terms.

In cooperation with its ENP partners, Eurostat has the responsibility ‘to promote and implement the use of European and internationally recognised standards and methodology for the production of statistics, necessary for developing and monitoring policy achievements in all policy areas’. Eurostat undertakes the task of coordinating EU efforts to increase the statistical capacity of the ENP countries. Additional information on the policy context of the ENP is provided here.


  1. This designation shall not be construed as recognition of a State of Palestine and is without prejudice to the individual positions of the Member States on this issue.
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