To move or not to move – is that the question? Reflections on the debate ‘The future is us! Young Europeans discuss with Wolfgang Schäuble’

Posted on 10. June 2013

by Estefanía Almenta

estefania-almenta-lopez-modifiedI was born in Spain in a family of very humble means. My parents never had the opportunity to study, but I did thanks to the effort of my country, which paid for my education. Now I’m highly qualified and ready to give back to society the fruits of all the investment they did on me over these years. Sadly I cannot do it because I cannot find a job.

When I hear EU policy-makers talking about ‘Youth Guarantee Schemes’1 and about the ‘New Deal’2 to tackle youth unemployment, it comes as a little ray of hope to me. Undoubtedly these youth employment measures represent a unique opportunity to change the course of events. Still I wonder: Will this be enough? The schemes address the problems of young people under 25 who are neither in employment nor in education or training (so-called NEETs), but what about young adults over 25 in their prime earning years? What about highly educated young citizens with work experience, but currently unemployed?

This is the question I asked German Minister of Finance Wolfgang Schäuble last Wednesday at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, during a public debate entitled ‘The future is us! Young Europeans discuss with Wolfgang Schäuble’. He gave me a very straight answer: “Move. Highly educated young people must be flexible and mobile. It’s more difficult for those who are not highly educated.” I was clearly not satisfied with this reply. “I have already moved. I spent my Erasmus year in England and I’ve worked in the Netherlands and Scotland. I completely agree international experience gives you more opportunities, but it is not enough. ” Minister Schäuble responded: “As soon as the economy recovers, you will find more jobs in Spain. The Spanish economy is doing well and is on a good path to economic recovery. The same is true of Ireland, Portugal and Greece.” After this, it was clear to me that Schäuble’s advice was to move and wait till things get better.

Fortunately my fellow participant Zuzana Novakova, who was on stage, intervened in that moment to ask the question I had on the tip of my tongue: ‘How is economy going to recover in peripheral countries if their most prepared young people migrate to Northern and Western Europe?” Minister Schäuble answered: “Young people will leave, get better ideas in other countries and then return to their home country with better ideas and moneyThat will be beneficial for their home countries.” Zuzana reacted: “I’m from Slovakia and I work in Brussels now. I can’t return to my country because there aren’t opportunities for me there. How will my country benefit from me?

To move or not to move – is that really the question?

Apparently it all comes down to being flexible and mobile. If you have good qualifications and you can’t find a job where you live, move somewhere else. On the surface it makes sense, but don’t let appearances fool you. I truly wish it was that simple.

1. The legal and linguistic obstacles

  • Let’s imagine I decide to move to Germany. I could be an English and Spanish teacher in a secondary school. In that case, the first thing I’d need would be to gain domestic recognition of my foreign degrees. Besides, I may be asked to undertake an aptitude test or an adaptation period before my qualification is validated. Of course I’ll also be required to learn German and prove I’m a fully proficient speaker. A friend of mine went through this process and it took her three years to complete it. This is three years in Germany before she could actually work as a teacher.

2. Kiss your personal life goodbye

  • When you move, what happens to your personal life? Your professional career and your personal projects should be compatible, but this is not always the case when you move. Having a fulfilling personal life is fundamental to enjoy a feeling of well-being on an individual level, but also on the collective one. A cohesive and prosperous European society cannot be built upon dissatisfied citizens.

3. The brain drain

  • It is highly educated professionals who actually have better chances if they migrate to other EU countries. In the case of Spain, politicians want to convey a positive message reporting that our emigrants used to be low-skilled workers, but now are the most prepared ones. “We export talent”, they say proudly. This would be good news if we had plenty of it, but the truth is that we have to ‘export’ our most talented candidates because our economy is not ready to take advantage of them. No wonder I’ve heard so many times lately: “You’re overqualified for this position.”

What is yet to be done?

I acknowledge offering further education and training and encouraging mobility are essential to deal with youth unemployment, but it is definitely not sufficient. The question of how to tackle youth joblessness ought to go beyond moving or not moving abroad, and certainly mobility needs to be easier and at all cases it must remain a right and not become an obligation for young Europeans.

As we cannot resolve an exceptionally complicated problem if we just address one aspect of it, youth unemployment action must adopt a holistic approach. What is yet to be done, then?

We have already covered a number of measures in the FutureLab Europe policy manifesto on ‘Europe’s Lost Generation’ in our recent report, so I won’t repeat them here. Nevertheless, I’d like to drive attention to one point: we don’t need to reform our economies, but to transform them. Reforms are aimed at making improvements by changing some aspects, but without touching the core of the system. For its part, transformations go a step further because they modify the whole structure and turn it into something completely different.

If we go back to the case of Spain, a lot of reforms have already been put into practice, but no transformations at all. If Spain, together with other European countries, wants to attain a sustainable competitiveness, it needs to invest more on R+D (Research and Development), instead of focusing so much on reactivating the traditional dominant sectors of its economy (tourism, construction and agriculture). Otherwise, the economy may recover, but it will remain deeply dependent and fragile, making it particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in global markets.

Footnotes

  1. To put it succinctly, ‘Youth Guarantee Schemes’ will ensure that all young people under the age of 25 who lose their job or do not find work after leaving school should receive a good-quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within 4 months. More info: http://ec.europa.eu/youth/news/2013/20130301-youth-guarantee_en.htm
  2. The ‘New Deal’ consists of six billion euros in loans to fund apprenticeships, encourage mobility and provide credit to SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises). Press release: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-13-464_en.htm?locale=en