What does being a European citizen mean? How many closed doors do we still encounter if we want to have our rights respected in Europe? These are just some of the questions the second European Citizenship Report sets out to answer.
Nathalie Stockwell, the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Justice, explained what the study is about: “The Citizenship Report is really based on citizens’ experiences. We started a big consultation a year ago and it’s the result of what citizens have told us, what they would like to see as an improvement for them to be able to use their rights and all the opportunities that the EU offers”.
But what are these opportunities? The first Citizenship Report, in 2010, concluded that most people were not fully aware of their rights.
“Information” is one of the six key areas outlined in the Report, where the Commission plans to take action. Information is crucial to boost political participation, a year ahead of the European elections.
Easing bureaucracy, eliminating hurdles when shopping cross-border and protecting vulnerable people are the other targets, together with the creation of a true EU labour market.
Work emerged as one of the areas where it is harder to feel 100% European. Even traineeships instead of helping, often slow young people down from entering the labour market. The situation in Spain is among the most dramatic in Europe.
Today about 26 million people are unemployed in Europe (*according to Eurostat). More than six million of them are from Spain. The country has the highest unemployment rates after Greece. When it comes to youth unemployment, figures are even more dramatic.
They are twice as high as those for over 25, about 23% in the EU-27, over 57% in Spain. In the face of the economic crisis, unemployment and austerity measures, protest rallies have become a daily occurrence in Madrid.
More and more job seekers are getting trapped in precarious and unstable work and there are growing concerns over the role traineeships are playing in this.
Right-on traveled to Madrid to meet Jorge Fernandez de los Rios, a pedagogue and also a long term trainee: “I’m 25. I finished university when I was 22 and I have never signed a real work contract. I have only worked as a volunteer here in Spain and also abroad, in what you would call a traineeship or an internship,” he said.
“Either you are confined at home without being able to earn money, to become independent, or to get married, or you work in slave-like conditions. But they won’t call it slavery, they would call it a traineeship or internship,” he added.
The European Youth Forum, including the Youth Council of Spain, has presented a proposal for a European Internship Charter based on a consultation that shows trainees are learning less and less.
Sentiments shared by Ricardo Ibarra Roca, President of Spain’s Youth Council: “In spite of traineeships being intended to help young people, they end up being fraudulent contracts that employers use with those who are struggling to gain an entry into employment. So far it’s been legal in Spain to use young people up to their thirties for internships without any limitation. The European Commission declared in July 2012 that over 60% of Spanish traineeships are illegal, without any contributions, work rights or minimum wage.”
“What we are seeing in Spain is that young people are forced to go abroad to find a job. It’s the only alternative, and I think this is a mistake,” believes Roca.
What steps will European institutions take to tackle this phenomenon? According to Natalie Stockwell for the moment rules are not clear: “Different member states apply different standards, and the idea is to come up really with a quality framework with minimum standards of what a quality traineeship should be in terms of contract, pay, interest of the job. Traineeship should not be low paid employment”.
In response to the economic crisis, last year Germany saw the number of EU migrants reach its highest level since 1995. Spanish arrivals have increased by 45%.
The EU labour market is happening, but sociologists are raising concerns over the growing link between migration and employment precariousness.