Written by Doris Manu
In a South – Eastern Europe where unemployment is rampant and salaries are significantly below the EU average, it is common to read headlines announcing that half of the young people in a country desire to leave. Yet for a country that is a member of the European Union for more than 10 years now, with a population that nears 20 million people, Romania is in the unusual situation in which nearly half of 15 – 24 year olds express the wish to emigrate.
This adds to the loss of population the country already had from 1990 until today, which is 3.8 million people. Most of them went to other EU countries, as visas were abolished and Romania became part of the EU in 2007. According to Eurostat, Romania ranks first in Europe based on the number of young people already living outside the country. The number stands at approximately 600.000 born in Romania or 1 in 8 Romanian children.
The population decline that comes with youth loss and brain drain inevitably leads to skills shortage and loss of competitiveness.
The sectors with the highest skills shortage in Romania are information/communication/technology (ICT) and health, followed by education. In 2018, 90% of Romanian enterprises that recruited or tried to recruit ICT specialists could not fill the vacancies. In the health sector, 3 000 doctors enter the system each year while 3 500 leave each year through retirement or migration, according to the Romanian Medical Association.
The labour and skills shortage in sectors providing services to the population such as education and health only contributes to more emigration and brain drain, as people have certain expectations from the quality of such services that cannot be fulfilled and lead to frustration and the desire to live elsewhere.
Aspirations, underemployment and the cost of life
Among the most cited factors for emigration among the young is also the lack of job prospects. In a country where the average salary is about a third of the EU27 average wage and where the administrative obstacles to working across the border are very few, the external mobility for better jobs or better remunerated work is the choice of many young graduates.
The highly skilled young graduates are not the only category tempted by migration, but so are the unskilled. As the cost of life and urbanisation are on the rise, unskilled workers from rural areas would rather move abroad than move to an expensive capital city in search for work.
Inequality, injustice and corruption
The feeling of frustration that drives many Romanians abroad is also a consequence of the inequality, injustice and perceived corruption. When it comes to inequality, Romania has one of the highest ratio in the EU: the top 20% of Romania’s population (with the highest income) received 7 times as much income as the bottom 20% in 2017. The perceived inequality coupled with the perceived corruption is contributing to the sense of hopelessness and lack of faith in a future for them in the country that many young people show.
The perceived high level of corruption has been the reason behind many protests against the government over the past few years. The youth have been present in massive numbers at these protests to express dissatisfaction about the way the present governance of the country is impacting their future.
The political attempts to interfere with the fight against corruption have led to international criticism as well. In the Transparency International Corruption Perception index for 2019, Romania has been downgraded compared to the previous year and received 44 points out of 100, which is the lowest score in the EU, with the explanation that there have been »steps to undermine judicial independence and an inability to prosecute high level corruption ». Even without the most recent attempts by national authorities to change the Criminal Code and impact the justice system, trust in the judiciary is very low, it being perceived to be corrupt, politicised or incompetent.
A recurrent political crisis has had as a result the change or recomposition of the government many times in only a few years.
A difficult cohabitation of a social-democrat government with a president from the opposition has ended when the Social Democrat Party-led government collapsed. There has been no agreement on early elections and a new government led by National Liberal Party only survived for a very short time before losing a confidence vote in the Parliament. Within days it returned back to power after it received a new mandate from the President that was approved by the Parliament.
In a climate of political instability, the policies adopted by the government do not inspire trust and security in common young citizens. Trust in political parties and state institutions is at an all times low.
What should Romania do?
As matters of priority, the government should massively invest in education, support entrepreneurship by young people and increase salaries in the sectors that provide public services. A young educated population that sees job prospects and well remunerated jobs in their country will not seek as much opportunities elsewhere.
Secondly, the state should introduce taxation measures that reduce economic inequalities and the urban – rural development gap. Young people looking for more fairness and justice in the Romanian society will thus not emigrate out of frustration and disappointment with the way the less privileged are treated.
Finally, political parties as well as politicians and the institutions they lead should respect the principles of good governance and separation of powers. This is the only way to rebuild trust and regain respect among young people that will otherwise leave looking for better governed societies.
The author’s opinions are personal and can in no way engage the responsibility of Euro Créative.
Doris Manou has a background in International Relations and European Studies. She is currently working at the European Union mission in Tirana within the framework of the European Union’s enlargement policy. Doris’ main interests are in international politics, international affairs and the Western Balkans region. Finally, Doris has real international experience having lived in Belgium, Romania, Croatia, Serbia, Kosovo, Northern Macedonia and Albania.