Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to provide quantitative estimates on the impact of active labour market policy (ALMP) on youth unemployment in Europe based on a macroeconomic panel data set of youth unemployment, ALMP and education policy variables and further country-specific characteristics on labour market institutions and the broader demographic and macroeconomic environment for all EU-Member States. Design/methodology/approach: The authors follow the design of an aggregate impact analysis, which aims to explain the impact of policy on macroeconomic variables like youth employment and unemployment (see Bellmann and Jackman, 1996). This follows the assumption that programmes, which are effective in terms of improving individual employment opportunities, are going to make a difference on the equilibrium of youth unemployment. Findings: The findings show that both wage subsidies and job creation are reducing aggregate youth unemployment, which is in contrast to some of the surveys of microeconomic studies indicating that job creation schemes are not effective. This finding points towards the importance to assist young people making valuable work experience, which is a benefit from job creation, even if this experience is made outside regular employment and/or the commercial sector. Research limitations/implications: In terms of the variables to model public policy intervention in the youth labour market, only few indicators exist, which are consistently available for all EU-Member States, despite much more interest and research aiming to provide an exhaustive picture of the youth labour market in Europe. The only consistently available measures are spending on ALMP as a percentage of gross domestic product (in the different programmes) and participation stocks and entries by type of intervention. Practical implications: The different effects found for the 15–19 year olds, who seem to benefit from wage subsidies, compared to the effect of job creations benefitting the 20–24 year olds, might relate to the different barriers for both groups to find employment. Job creation programmes seem to offer this group an alternative mechanism to gain valuable work experience outside the commercial sector, which could help form a narrative of positive labour market experience. In this way, job creation should be looked more positively at when further developing ALMP provision, especially for young people relatively more distant to engagement in regular employment. Social implications: Improving the situation of many millions of young Europeans failing to find gainful employment, and more generally suffering from deprivation and social exclusion, has been identified as a clear priority for policy both at the national level of EU-Member States and for EU-wide initiatives. With this study, the authors attempt to contribute to the debate about the effectiveness of policies which combat youth unemployment by estimating the quantitative relationship of ALMP and other institutional features and youth unemployment. Originality/value: To research the relationship between youth unemployment and ALMP, the authors created a macroeconomic database with repeated observations for all EU-Member States for a time series (1998–2012). The authors include variables on country demographics and the state of the economy as well as variables describing the labour market regimes from Eurostat, i.e. the flexibility of the labour market (part-time work and fixed-term employment as a percentage of total employment) and the wage setting system (level and coordination of bargaining and government intervention in wage bargaining).