Jobs Crisis: Europe’s Great Migration

Spain unemployed in line at job centre, Madrid

Later this week Europe’s leaders will gather in Brussels on a mission to fight unemployment. They have identified the 26 million out of work as a threat to the European Union.

Recently the French President, Francois Hollande, warned of hatred and anger, with people turning their backs on the European project. The president of the European Investment Bank, Werner Hoyer, spoke of unemployment undermining the trust of a whole generation.

Whilst Europe debates how jobs are created, tens of thousands of young Europeans are on the move in search of work. They are part of a great migration.

For many, Germany is the land of opportunity and jobs. In 2012, 45,000 Italians moved to Germany. The Spanish were not far behind, with 37,000 heading in the same direction; 35,000 Greeks also left for Germany.

Germany needs these migrants. The Association of German Engineers says it wants 70,000 engineers immediately. When scientists and IT specialists are included, the figure goes up to 200,000.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is laying out the welcome mat. Not only does Germany need these skills, but she believes migration will go some way to alleviating Europe’s unemployment. She says that the young and unemployed should be prepared to move to find work.


Unemployment Rates
Country %
1 Greece 27
2 Spain 26.8
3 Portugal 17.8
4 Cyprus 15.6
5 Rep of Ireland 13.5
6 Italy 12
7 France 11
8 UK 7.7
9 EU average 11
Source:EU Eurostat April 2013 (Figures for Greece & UK are for February 2013)

Mrs Merkel is influenced by her own experience, coming from the former communist East Germany. “I had 30% youth unemployment in my own constituency (in the east),” she told the BBC. “I know that many young people from my region only had jobs because they moved to the south.”

So Germany is investing 1bn euros (£848m; $1.3bn) in funding apprenticeships for young people in places like Spain and Portugal to help them find work in Germany.

Brain drain

It is, however, often the best and brightest who are emigrating. In the year up to April 2012, 87,000 people left Ireland. Many moved to Australia and New Zealand. Most of them had achieved high levels of education.

Only this week, I stood outside the Angolan consulate in the Portuguese capital Lisbon.

By 08:00 in the morning, 150 people were waiting in line. Tens of thousands of Portuguese are seeking work in places like Angola and Mozambique, countries which were former colonies. Once again it is engineers and those with specialist skills who are gambling on a different future outside Europe.

Some may return. Many will not. The fear is of a brain drain which will leave some of these southern European countries stagnating. It is estimated that more than 100,000 Spanish graduates have already left a country where unemployment is heading towards 28%.

So Europe’s leaders this week will try and bring forward a 6bn-euro youth guarantee scheme to help young people who are without work. Even though programmes at the European level may help, most jobs are created by small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) which want easier access to credit and less European regulation.

In the meantime, with unemployment still rising in southern Europe, many young people are on the move – a great migration in search of work, with unpredictable consequences for the countries they leave behind.