The fight against unemployment has been declared a top priority of European Union (EU) policies. Indeed, if mass unemployment is the major political problem in Europe, then the legitimacy of the EU as a political union will crucially depend on how this problem is dealt with. In this article we follow precisely the question of how the problem is dealt with in EU policy-making processes. Two forms of political spaces, an advisory group working ‘behind closed doors’ and the European Parliament, are compared. A socio-linguistic analysis of texts produced in the respective bodies reveals the many tensions in the development of supranational employment policies. Particular emphasis is placed on the rhetoric of globalization and competitiveness as being constitutive of the neo-liberal discourse.