Since the beginning of the millennium, the institutions of the European Union have intensified their political efforts to combat youth employment. Youth-specific policy initiatives were launched after the financial and economic crisis of 2008, and the overall subsequent rise of unemployment rates among young people. In this article, we analyse and assess these developments on the basis of an analysis of European policy documents and interviews. Our conclusions are twofold. One, we argue that the Europe 2020 Strategy and its flagship initiatives devoted to youth do not constitute a new policy field or approach, but are rather the outcome of an incrementalist logic of policy development. Two, the European youth strategy is clearly committed to activation, and it pushes policy developments towards a minimalist policy approach of precarious protection. Both developments are explained by the actor constellations and path dependencies of the European policy arena.