Europe must do more to inspire youth to stay

Combined with an aging population, the flight of young people is also a pension actuary's nightmare. Clearly providing enough education, support and opportunity at home is the best answer.

By Jon Van Housen and Mariella Radaelli (Euroscope)

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Published: Sat 26 Oct 2019, 8:19 PM

Last updated: Sat 26 Oct 2019, 10:24 PM

On again and off again, the deadline that will finally bring Brexit to a close has been a moving target. The latest word is that it could be delayed another three months - or not.
For some observers, it has been like so-called Chinese water torture, a constant drip, drip, drip that finally drives one mad. But when the long goodbye is finally over it will have equally noticeable consequences. Among those is a vanishing dream for some of Europe's youth and professionals. The UK was an escape valve for many who could not get fulfilling work in their home country.
Once the second-biggest economy in the European Union - and fifth largest in the world - the UK is more wired into the digital age and modern business practices than many countries in Europe. London is one of the top financial centres in the world.
The UK's allure as a beacon for better future might now be waning, but many youth in eastern and southern Europe are still keen to emigrate somewhere. One of the beauties of the EU is the free movement of people to work and live in another member country.
For young professionals, the options now appear more limited, but that development in turn fits well with hopes of many planners in their home countries. They say those are exactly the people needed at home now more than ever.
The pattern of intra-EU emigration from southern and eastern Europe is a brain drain that has governments and citizens themselves increasingly alarmed. A recent survey by the European Council on Foreign Relations found that outbound emigration was more of a concern than immigration in Spain, Italy, Greece, Poland, Hungary, and Romania.
The Bruegel economic think-tank based in Brussels found that the biggest net losses in the 20 to 34-year-old age group due to intra-EU emigration between 2013 and 2017 came in Poland, which lost 268,000 youth, Spain with a decline of 136,000, Hungary at 62,000 and Italy with 50,000. The biggest recipient countries for the age group in the EU were Germany at 492,000 and Sweden a far distant second at 24,000. The survey did not provide age-specific numbers for the UK, but a total of 454,000 non-British EU nationals immigrated to the country in the period.
With their citizens finding a life in other countries, the net loss in economic terms is real. Former Italian Economy Minister Giovanni Tria said in 2017 that "the brain drain that Italy is experiencing costs us around 14 billion euros a year, just under one per cent of GDP", according to the ANSA news agency. The nation's statistics agency ISTAT found that emigration tripled between 2006 and 2016, a year when 157,000 Italians left for another country.
The loss of nationals has been counterbalanced in some countries by the surge in migration from Africa and the Middle East. Italy received 2.5 million immigrants and France 513,000 between 2013 and 2017, the think-tank found.
Germany, which already had net inflows from Europe, received a total of 3.8 million in the period and the UK received 2.4 million.
There are now millions of EU nationals who have made a home in the UK. With prolonged negotiations over Brexit, their anxiety is running high.
In August, recently elected Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would "repeat unequivocally" the government's guarantee that all EU citizens, their family members and dependents will be able to stay with no change in their rights if they have lived continuously for five years in the country.
But a large number of EU nationals don't meet that threshold. An estimated one million have settled status but not necessarily permanent British residency.
And what to do about the root cause, the brain drain, is a huge challenge. Tome Anticic, Croatia's state secretary for science and education, himself a physicist who studied in the UK, said it could be a defining issue shaping the entire future of Europe.
"The brain drain is a huge problem for the EU13 (new member states)," Anticic said. "It's important that EU starts taking it more seriously."
As Croatia, the youngest EU member, prepares to chair the EU presidency this year, Anticic thinks EU infrastructure funds should require countries to invest in their education and research systems or get less EU cash.
"Things are changing too fast in the world," he said, and called for the EU to take radical action to stop the best talent leaving for better conditions in other countries, further diminishing the innovation capacity of some countries.
Combined with an aging population, the flight of young people is also a pension actuary's nightmare. Clearly providing enough education, support and opportunity at home is the best answer.
But that will require a groundswell of change to free nations from the overburden of bureaucracy and vested interests that stifle growth and opportunity. Tradition-bound Europe seems locked with its feet in cement, unable to leave behind the old ways to embrace the new.
Seemingly unable to take effective action to streamline their systems and fuel opportunity, many governments just continue the ongoing drip of talk, analysis and debate.
Jon Van Housen and Mariella Radaelli are editors at

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