How can regions and cities tackle brain drain?  

Brain drain is a problem affecting regions across Europe. Local and regional authorities have to cope directly with the socio-economic effects caused by the significant loss of talented people. A new study presented at the SEDEC Commission of the European Committee of the Regions on Tuesday offers insight into ways in which regions could boost their attractiveness to retain or get back young, skilled people.

The study had been commissioned by the SEDEC chair José Ignacio Ceniceros (ES/EPP), President of the Government of La Rioja. "We must not allow a Europe with first and second class regions and citizens. Many of the key domains to tackle the causes of brain drain, such as education, employment, social policy and research, fall within the scope of the SEDEC commission. While we have on several occasions insisted that EU's cohesion policy should include specific measures for regions suffering from demographic challenges, this study looks into ways in which local and regional authorities can prevent or mitigate brain drain or respond to its negative effects", Mr Ceniceros said.

Although demand for talent and brain drain are both driven by job markets, the study concludes that ad-hoc policies or measures implemented locally or regionally to retain, attract, or regain a highly educated workforce can be effective. Presenting 30 successful initiatives implemented by local and regional authorities in 22 Member States, the study suggests that regions and cities should:

  • Better identify the needs of talent, for example by establishing a dialogue with young people
  • Improve coordination with relevant players benefitting from the presence of talent in the territory
  • Identify and support key driving sectors for retaining/attracting talent
  • Stimulate the recruitment of outside talent
  • Mitigate/remove structural impediments/barriers to attracting international talents
  • Cooperate with other authorities facing the same challenges with regards to highly skilled workers.

Various CoR members expressed their concern over the phenomenon. Budapest city councillor Kata Tüttő (HU/PES), pointed out that her city is missing, among others, health care workers, coders, teachers and technical experts: "The lack of expertise is making it difficult to reach the EU targets for waste management and for many other areas." Tüttő mentioned the salary gap between Member States as the main reason behind migration.

Juraj Droba (SK/ECR), Chairman of Bratislava Self-Governing Region, stressed that social capital determines the performance of business environment and overall prosperity. "In Slovakia the prosperity is seriously threatened by the brain drain phenomenon of university students and highly-skilled workers. The worst thing is that these people are not coming back", he regretted.

Markku Markkula (FI/EPP), Chair of Espoo City Board and First Vice-President of CoR, noted that even Europe's more prosperous regions are suffering from brain drain that is often oriented towards top universities in the United States. He referred to the importance of interregional cooperation and sharing best practises to "improve the attractiveness of local economies and this way bring back young people to set up enterprises and support local research and innovation activities".

Helma Kuhn-Theis (DE/EPP), Member of Weiskirchen Municipal Council, suggested that improving broadband connectivity in rural and remote areas is a key factor to improve opportunities for young people in those areas, pushing back against the brain drain. In this field the CoR is working together with the European Commission in the Broadband Platform that met on Tuesday after the SEDEC Commission meeting. Members exchanged views with European Commission's experts notably on how to best profit from the opportunities that the new Connecting Europe Facility and the Broadband Fund offer.