From Tourists to Migrants: Do young Europeans have no option but to emigrate? Life & Style

11/28/2013 by Mike Dilien Belgium

Does the Old Continent hold no future for its young? Is Europe becoming an open-air museum for travelling Chinese? The generation of Europeans who embraced no-frills airlines and sweatshop-made gadgets is discovering the mechanics of globalisation.
"DOTTORE! DOTTORE!" A burst of cheering and applause fills the lecture room. Smartly dressed students, some nearly 30 years old, are celebrating graduation. Their parents look proud. Finally! The professors get up and leave the room. On their desks, the theses remain untouched. Then follows a meal in a restaurant. It will go on for hours. At some point, however, one of the guests will ask the graduate that inevitable question: "What's next?" Usually the answer is "Studying English" or "Taking a postgraduate degree".
They have been nicknamed mamma's boys: overage students who keep postponing graduation and who still live at home. Rather than mentality, this stems more from the labour market. In particular the opportunities it offers or, rather, doesn't.
After decades of ultra-low birth rates, one would expect Italy's labour market to be near full employment. Well, it's not. Forty per cent of young Italians are unemployed –an all-time record. One in five Italians aged between 15 and 29 are NEETS (Not in Education, Employment or Training). Is "generazione mille euro" facing the same problem as the "mileuristas" and the G700? Are Italian, Spanish and Greek graduates all in the same boat: overqualified and underpaid?
Many European graduates are experiencing the insider-outsider theory: the more protected the insiders, the more vulnerable the outsiders. Rigid labour markets impose temporary contracts and low wages on the young in order to guarantee jobs-for-life and lavish pensions to the elder. On top of this, the young are to refund government debt piled up by the elder. Italy, for instance, spends 16% of social expenditure on pensions. Stiff rules and high taxes make young people work without a contract and the rights that go with it. Securing a mortgage, for example. Young people do not start a family because they cannot afford a place of their own. Two out of three Italians under 35 still live with their parents. Last year, only 2 out of 10 Spaniards under 30 flew the parental nest. For the first time in a century, a generation has a lower standard of living than its predecessor has. Mamma's boys?
"Kick them out," said Italy's former Minister of Economy Tommasso Padoa-Schioppa. Seventy-year old Padoa-Schioppa, son of the CEO of Assicuranzi Generali and brother to the dean of Milan's faculty of Law, flawlessly embodied the insiders. Whereas 1 million Italians under 30 have become unemployed since 2008, the number of employees over 55 has increased from 2,8 to 3,5 million. The average bank executive is 69; court president, 65; and university professor, 63. Italy keeps up the tradition of "raccomandazioni": access to jobs depends on family ties and political affiliation. Padoa-Schioppa's successor, Fabrizia Lapecorella, started as a professor at her alma mater, the University of Bari. Although Lapecorella did not have a single publication to her name, she beat a London School of Economics PhD who had published in 10 renowned scientific journals. "Italy," a young Italian wrote in La Stampa "a country they say is built upon family because nepotism would sound too harsh."
However, the current economic crisis is of such length and depth that it does not even leave jobs for the boys. In La Repubblica, the rector of the elite LUISS University –and former CEO of RAI– wrote an open letter to his son: "with my heart suffering more than ever, my advice is that you, having finished your studies, take the road abroad." Last year, a record 35,435 Italians aged between 20 and 40 emigrated –30,1% more than the year before. The previous record dates from 2008, the year the economic crisis broke out. Since 2006 the number of emigrants keeps growing.
Architect Luca Vigliero, for example, graduated in 2006 from the University of Genoa. Italian employers weren't interested in his resume. Dutch star architect Rem Koolhaas, however, was and gave him a chance. Luca now leads a team and designs buildings in Dubai. At 31 he started a family, something he could never have done in Italy. Highly-educated Italians who emigrate often make steep career progression and reach senior managerial positions. Italy's educational system offers good quality. Graduates from countries with a good and affordable educational system can capitalise their knowledge in countries where education is lacking in quality or outrageously expensive.
Moreover, Italy is a trademark. No country the size of Italy's brings to mind such a recognisable image. Design, art, automotive, food: Made in Italy is known around the globe. The Italian Chamber of Commerce could launch a program similar to Portugal's INOV Programme. Thanks to INOV, many young Portuguese are having careers in Portugal's former colonies they could never dream of at home.
Is emigration really the only option available to Europe's brightest? After all, countries with a rigid labour market cope with high youth unemployment, but so do countries whose labour market has been liberalised. Europe is the birthplace of University. Over time, European universities have moved from elitist to mass education –Rome's "La Sapienza", for instance, counts 150,000 students. Today a degree no longer offers what it did when studying was but for the few. Furthermore, automation and offshoring of jobs keep changing the demand for graduates. Some see change as a threat: a Corriere della Sera survey reveals that a third of Italians aged 18-34 is looking for a job-for-life. Yet others see change as an opportunity. All over Europe, young people are setting up shop. Tech-savvy, creative and entrepreneurial graduates team up to capitalize their skills. If no one gives you a career, then why not build it yourself? A good idea, the internet, some venture capital and these start-ups go global. Instead of Generation Praktikum or Génération Précaire, the millenials may become Generation Start-up!
Finally, the meal comes to an end. People say goodbye and leave the restaurant. On table remain empty bottles of Zuccardi wine. The etiquette reads "Mendoza, Argentina". In the Fifties, Italian engineer Alberto Zuccardi migrated to Argentina. The Zuccardi family started to irrigate the hills of Mendoza and cultivate vineyards. Now the Zuccardis export their fine wine all over the world. Not Made In Italy, but Made By Italians.

Mike Dilien Belgium

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