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Monday, 19 November 2012

The New Exodus – How Spain loses its own potential

A new wave of migrant workers
In the late 1950ies and the early 1960ies, Europe was marked by a movement of labour forces from the southern European countries into Germany. As guest workers (“Gastarbeiter”), young people from Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Turkey settled in Germany to help their new home country with its “economic miracle” in the post war period. For the migrants and their families it was a chance for a better life.
Now, the “migrant workers” are coming to Germany, again; but under different circumstances.

For young and highly qualified people in Spain, their home country is no longer a place to live. With an overall unemployment rate of more than 25 %, and more than 50 % for people under 25, young Spaniards only have one answer to the question what to do next: “Learn as much English and German as possible and get out of Spain!”

It sounds like an outcry of desperation and a monumental loss of confidence in the own country and government, and it actually is. The constant economic downturn, the strict austerity strategy of the conservative government under Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and by the EU, and the massive unemployment rates pushed Spain into a vicious circle. Cuts in investments lead to decreasing demand, combined with painful cuts and the austerity programme causing an increasing lack in public investment, which again leads to mass firings and deteriorating demand from the consumers’ side. A simple economic rule: no consumption, no GDP growth, no investments, no labour. The result of this: Spain is massively downsizing its own internal market demand and investment prospects, causing growing public pauperism all over the Spanish population. Middle-class Spaniards become poor, poor Spaniards get even poorer, or even homeless.

Looking abroad
Since there are no more job prospects in Spain, not even for the own high educated graduates, young people have to seek for their professional and private future abroad. The numbers of Spaniards signing up for English and German language courses has notably increased; not only for university graduates, but also for young people with a non-academic education. The reason for this mass run on language schools has also to be found in a flaw of the Spanish education system in which foreign languages are not thoroughly taught at schools and universities – in comparison to other European countries.  In this case, the Spanish education system has failed to train foreign languages to their own youth. As a result, a vast majority of Spaniards only have limited foreign languages skills and – as an even more dramatic consequence – Spaniards have shown little readiness to seek for opportunities outside Spain. Now, in the view of the own imminent economic disaster threatening the sheer fiscal existence, a desperate point has been reached where people would do anything necessary to get back into the labour force. The scale of desperation becomes obvious, when highly trained university graduates, partly for Ph.D. degrees, start working abroad as waiters, hotel employees, call centre agents, factory workers or even construction workers.

Generation lost
The Spanish youth is a symbol for an entire lost generation. A generation that grew up in relative prosperity with all opportunities given to achieve high academic standards, and the hope to make the next step in career and personal wealth; now ending on the bottom end of society in the struggle of surviving. As a result, family solidarity has regained a major value to overcome individual loss by strengthening smaller communities. What Spain is going through at the moment is a warning signal for all the other European countries which are not yet that heavily affected by the crisis. Spain is the second biggest trouble candidate for the EU after Greece, and the entire southern European region is suffering from the same social developments as Greece and Spain.

During her visit in Portugal last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was – once again – main target for demonstrations against the European austerity programme. As Portugal is experiencing exactly the same catastrophic effects of deteriorating economic performance, mass unemployment, and exorbitant public debts many Portuguese not only head towards the UK or Germany, but also to Angola. The south-western African state is currently going through a remarkable economic growth and it has become a main investment country on the African continent. Being a former Portuguese colony until its independence in November 1975, the common language is a certain incentive for many Portuguese attempting to leave their home on the Iberian Peninsula and to emigrate to Angola.

Looking to the other side of the Atlantic
From a Spanish perspective, however, it is a bit more difficult. The readiness of Spaniards to relocate to Latin America turns out to be difficult, although it seems to be the most obvious choice for them regarding the common language. However, anti-Spanish resentments for ancient historic reasons have notoriously been en vogue for decades, combined with the new Latin American self-confidence against their former “masters” from the old continent.

A few days ago, during the 22nd Ibero-American Summit in the southern Spanish city of Cádiz in the autonomous region of Andalucía (which by the way is the poorest and economically weakest of all the Spanish regions), King Juan Carlos I. of Spain has called upon the Latin American states to support the Spanish economy through higher investments in Spain and closer cooperation between Spanish and Latin American corporations.
An irony of history though, a former colonial power requesting help from its former colonies. Evidently, it is a chance for an entire generation to have a new start. Either way, if Latin America or Europe, the Spanish people will have to look outside their own box for now, but leaving their home country without high potentials, and limiting Spain’s own resources to restore economic growth.

The Spanish fate remains just as uncertain as the Greek one, but it will be written without most of its young people.

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