More southern Europeans are going where the jobs are. But not enough
Daniel Gómez Garcia, aged 23, is the sort of person Europe’s leaders may have had in mind when, on paper at least, they turned the European Union into a single labour market like America’s. Mr Gómez, from Andalusia in Spain, learned a smattering of German in school and passable English while studying in America. But when he came back to Spain he saw that hardly anybody in his class of ‘80 had a job. “Nothing to do, so let me go to Germany and get the language,” he recalls thinking. In autumn 2012 he took an unpaid four-month internship at his embassy in Berlin and paid for his tiny flat-share by helping a local holiday-rental firm with its Excel spreadsheets. Last month that turned into a low-paying but permanent job as an accountant.
That is how the single market is supposed to work. Spain has a youth unemployment rate of 56%. In Greece it is 58% (see chart). By contrast, Germany has negligible youth unemployment (8%) and a shortage of qualified workers. Theoretically, people should be willing to move from the “crisis countries” to the boom towns, just as the Okies once flocked to California.
To some extent this migration is indeed happening. New arrivals in Germany in the first half of 2012 grew by 15% over the same period in 2011, and by 35% net of departures. And the numbers of newcomers from the euro crisis countries increased the most—Greek arrivals were up by 78%, Spanish by 53%, for example. But the absolute numbers (6,900 Greeks and 3,900 Spaniards during those six months) are still modest.
It is “astonishing how astonishing it still is that they are coming”, says Holger Kolb, at the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration. Some things are beginning to work as intended, such as the elimination of bureaucratic hassles for moving within the EU. Yet it seems that the EU can never become a truly integrated market. That is mainly because of language. Mr Gómez finds Germans challenging—“always nagging you about recycling or noise or whatever”—but the language is “the hardest part”.
Thus language has replaced work visas as the main barrier to mobility. When the euro crisis began, the branches in southern Europe of the Goethe Institute, the German equivalent of the British Council, were overwhelmed by demand for German courses, says Heike Uhlig, the institute’s director of language programmes. That demand was also different, she adds: less about yearning to read Goethe’s “Faust” than about finding work. So the institute retooled, offering courses geared to the technical German used by engineers, nurses or doctors.
Language, besides proximity, explains a lot of today’s movements in the EU, says Klaus Bade, another migration expert. For example, the largest group of new arrivals in Germany is still from Poland, which is poorer though not a crisis country. But its schools often teach German alongside English.
Meanwhile Britain, thanks to English, has an advantage in the competition for foreign talent, which big German firms try to minimise by accepting English as their working language. But many of the job openings in Germany are to be found in medium-sized and private Mittelstand firms, often in remote places, where speaking German is still a must. That’s why Mr Gómez is advising his friends back home in Spain to bone up on the language and then “leave, get out”.