Average unemployment in Europe today is relatively high compared with OECD countries outside Europe. The majority of countries in Europe today have lower unemployment than any OECD country outside Europe, including the US. These two fa cts are consistent because the four largest countries in Continental Western Europe namely, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, (the Big Four), have very high unemployment and most of the rest have comparatively low unemployment. This variability is highly informative because the fifteen European countries which we consider have more or less independent labour markets in practice, despite ''free'' movement of labour. Using this information we see how changes in the structure of the various labour markets explain a substantial proportion of the secular fluctuations in unemployment in the various countries. In particular, we pin down some of the particular factors which enable us to understand why some European countries have been able fully to recover from the unemployment disasters of the early 1980s whereas some have not.