US think tank: European brain drain

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), based in New York, have stated that the European economy is “on the brink of a catastrophic shortage of key skills” due to the movement of highly skilled workers to North America and elsewhere. They have stated that Europe is “faced with a serious problem”.

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) is an influential organisation in the United States.  They have stated in their regular news and comment magazine that policymakers within Europe are continuing to struggle to save the common currency. They go on to say that due to a lack of appropriately skilled applicants approximately a quarter of job vacancies created in the major European economies remain unfilled each year.  The paper written by the CFR states “In the next six years, the continent’s digital economy alone will be shy of at least 900,000 professionals,”.  They continue with a prediction for the near future of the German economy that they say will experience “a shortage of one million workers with the necessary skills in science, engineering, technology and mathematics.”

The article continues by quoting Androulla Vassiliou, the outgoing European Commissioner for Youth and Education, by saying that the current lack of skills will damage, “the hopes of Europe’s youth and, consequently, our future prosperity.” The article’s author goes on to say, the European authorities have taken steps to improve immigration policies in order to attract highly skilled migrants from around the globe. “However, it would be far more efficient – politically and economically speaking, for Europe to focus instead on bringing back talented Europeans who have left to work elsewhere by attracting them back.”

The CFR was founded in 1921 after the end of the First World War and has a long history of inputting into European affairs. They argue that re-migration, rather than immigration, should be Brussels’ first priority. “Since the introduction of the central European currency more highly-qualified individuals have left Europe than have arrived in it.” According to their paper this means that even before the global economic downturn and subsequent Eurozone crisis took hold the fifteen states which adopted the currency showed a net loss of migration. On average approximately 120,000 workers with further education qualifications migrated away from their home country each year. The issue became more prevalent between 2000 and 2008, which were the years leading up to the worldwide recession. The article states, “Italy lost around 1.5 million professionals in this time period, many with very advanced skills,”.

The paper also states that countries such as Ireland, Greece, Spain and Portugal that have been hit hardest by the Eurozone crisis have seen the largest numbers of qualified professionals leaving Europe. It seems only natural that those people with sufficient skills and qualifications would search for better opportunities abroad. The article also states that the search for opportunities to work, “is no longer confined to the United States”. Africa and South America are attracting ever increasing numbers of European migrants. Portugal’s Prime Minister, Pedro Passos Coelho, is also quoted with his infamous call that suggested unemployed people in his country should move abroad to look for work. This resulted in a ‘brain drain’ in Portugal with approximately 100,000 skilled professionals leaving each year.

The article accuses the Blue Card visa system introduced by the European Commission in 2011 to reverse this migration trend as an “abject failure”. The Blue Card scheme was modelled on the American Green Card programme which grants visas to migrants overseas who want to work in the US.  The Blue Cards did not attract the 20 million+ highly skilled professionals that Brussels had hoped for. The Blue Cards focused on engineers, corporate strategists and bio-technology workers, but the scheme attracted fewer than 20,000 skilled migrants over two years, “a pittance compared with the ongoing number leaving southern Europe.”

The article calls for a structural and radical reform, rather than an extension to the visa system, of the Eurozone economy to attract people who have already left Europe and settled in the United States and elsewhere. It is hoped this will entice talented migrants, both skilled professionals and entrepreneurs, back to Europe to where they will be able to “realise their potential”.