With the rate of youth unemployment hitting 50% in some Southern European countries and with a lack of hope for the future,  young people are leaving their countries to get a job, to study or just to survive.

Ferran is one of those people; he is from Barcelona and is currently working in Edinburgh. He recognised that he “never believed he would be forced to migrate to Europe to begin an independent life”, he remembers that he,“was always dreaming about learning more languages than just Catalan and Spanish, but he was not expecting to be forced to learn English so quickly to get a job.”

As Ferran explains, he was “part of the lost generation, a whole generation with studies but without any employment offers, with dreams about the future but without the means of achieving them”. Indeed, worldwide there are 75 million unemployed young people (12.6% of the total population). Despite the fact that youth unemployment is highest in North Africa – 27.9% and lowest in East Asia – 9%, in some European countries like Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland or Greece, roughly one in every two young persons is unemployed. Source: ILO 2011

Lessons from Spain

In Spain particularly, there is a two-sided phenomenon: on one hand there is group of unemployed young people who left school early, mainly because of social problems plus incentives in the construction sector which needed cheap and low-qualified workers. On the other hand, there is a second group of young workers who are considered to be overqualified. Today, you can find economists working in bars or physicists working in supermarkets. Last year the Catalan Regional Minister for Universities, Mr. Mena, recommended that unemployed people with degrees should “take the first flight to London and start serving coffees“.  Indeed, young people today are the most qualified generation ever and the politicians hold open an exit door to more precarious jobs in Europe as the solution to unemployment.

The problem is that despite social change, there was no “good” structural reform of the industry and the labour market. Spanish local, regional and state governments joined with the EU in celebrating the “Spanish miracle”, the boom based on a housing and financial bubble. During this period of GDP growth; the tax burden on the wealthy did not increase, investment in R & D did not expand and the transformation of the energy sector was only briefly mentioned.

It is true that despite this fact, larges Spanish corporations have been performing well, such as Telefonica, Reposol or Inditex, but with no positive repercussion for low and middle income classes. In other words, Spain has not yet started a green revolution of its economy; it has instead committed itself to the old construction sector bubble and financial speculation.

The crisis is the consequences of this unsustainable economic model, which benefits the 1% at expenses of the 99%.  Even worse, today the European recipe to create jobs never deals with the real problem: the demand side of the labour market. Their structural reforms are based on more flexibility to hire and fire, without any security, and an increase in student fees. But what is worst is that these leaders have all the weapons (social and mass media control) to make people feel guilty for being unemployed or powerless for having to ask for help. As Ferran says “we are leaving a face to face battle against the powerful establishment”.

In this context, 70% of Spanish youth is willing to emigrate to work or study, while the European average is 53% (source: Euro barometer 2011).

n a report titled “Young emigrants are more than high qualified”, the Avalot organisation explains that the 2012 increase in youth unemployment for those holding university degrees was 15.1% in Catalonia. That same year, the annual increase in Catalan youth emigration was 9.26%. Compared to 2009, 30% more young Catalans are living abroad.  In Catalonia and Spain, likewise in Portugal and Greece, there is a clear brain drain. Hopefully for Europe, 42% of young Catalans are living in France, Germany, Andorra or Switzerland, but 36% are migrating to South America.

Indeed, from the global south it is difficult to understand why someone would leave Europe.  But for young Europeans this has become a regular answer to the question: What’s next? While only a few years ago Southern Europe was receiving huge waves of migration from South America, Africa and Asia, today young educated European are crossing the Atlantic to find a job. In Portugal, thousands of young unemployed professionals are leaving the country to migrate to former colonies such as Angola, Mozambique and Brazil. Greece, Ireland and Italy are also losing en masse their high educated young people.

An illusory freedom?

Freedom of movement in the EU is considered a social asset, but what the picture of migration flows is showing is that only high educated unemployed people are able to migrate and get a job elsewhere in Europe, at the expense of other workers or resulting in a general reduction in wages. The massive problem of long term unemployment and unqualified young people in Southern Europe is not solved through mobility in the European Union. The EU is a Union for the elite, where you have to have a masters and know two languages before you can move around but still with difficulties in maintaining your social rights, such as pension and unemployment benefit.

The problem of youth unemployment in southern Europe needs European answers, but such answers have to involve a change in the production and economic system so that high qualified workers can get a job and unqualified workers have the prospect of decent living conditions. Europe has to open its borders, make it easier to retain ones’ rights, learn languages, improve transport connections, increase cooperation between universities and schools, and make it easier to return home.

Emancipation means also the freedom to decide where to live. Catalonia and Spain will experience an exodus of skilled workers with terrible effects on their economies, especially for sectors like health or research. Moreover, forced economic migration is totally unfair: there are resources in the south and in Europe to redistribute wealth in a way that people can freely choose where to leave. That is what we need to achieve.

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