The loss of a young and educated workforce is a huge challenge for local communities throughout the European Union. The European Committee of the Regions (CoR) warns that the phenomenon of brain drain poses a risk to the long-term sustainability of the European project if social and economic imbalances between sending and receiving regions remain unaddressed. The opinion drafted and presented by Emil Boc (RO/EPP), Mayor of Cluj-Napoca and former Prime Minister of Romania, was adopted unanimously at the CoR plenary session on 12 February.
According to the Global Competitiveness Index, many eastern and southern EU Member States are currently among the world's countries least able to retain their talent. For example, nearly 3 million Romanians are currently living in another Member State and the phenomenon particularly concerns high-skilled workers. This leads to a vicious circle, making it difficult to achieve transition to a sustainable and competitive economic model based on the knowledge economy and high added-value products.
"It is crucial to achieve a balance between two essential principles of the European Union: free movement of labour and economic and social convergence between regions. Citizens and workers must be able to move freely within the EU, but only because they want to and not because they are pushed from their regions by poverty and scarce economic opportunities", rapporteur Emil Boc said.
The Committee is therefore calling for the new European Commission to step up its efforts to reduce regional disparities through tailored policies and instruments combining cohesion policy and other funding sources. It welcomes the political commitment of the Commission to a fair minimum wage in Europe, as this would tackle the issue of living standards and working conditions and have a direct impact on quality of life in sending regions.
The CoR is suggesting to initiate a mechanism at EU level to integrate and coordinate policy measures on brain drain, as its all aspects (brain gain, brain waste, brain circulation, re-migration) need to be addressed together with local, regional and national levels. Special attention should be on removing structural factors that exacerbate brain drain, such as lack of education, transport or digital infrastructure. Local and regional authorities can best identify their particular assets and the talents and policies that are needed.
"The task of cities and regions is to develop innovative policies to retain and re-attract talents. Enhancing quality of life is a very powerful tool for attracting and retaining an educated workforce", rapporteur Emil Boc stresses, pointing out that the Cluj-Napoca Metropolitan Area has managed to increase significantly its population over the past 20 years. The city has had the highest growth rate in the country over the last decade and ranks among the best Romanian cities in the Global Quality of Life Index. The mayor explains that this has been achieved through a participatory governance model involving universities, private sector, NGOs, citizens and public administration, with the focus on developing knowledge-based economy and innovation ecosystems as well as on delivering quality jobs, education and services such as cultural activities.
"Cities and regions can increase their attractiveness by promoting policies and instruments to develop local entrepreneurship, self-employment and alternative models of business development. Partnerships between local authorities, businesses and universities are important engines of local growth and development. It is crucial to recognise universities' and vocational education and training providers' role in local development within the knowledge-based economy", Mr Boc concludes.
The Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council (EYCS) will hold a policy debate on 20 February 2020 on 'Brain circulation – a driving force for the European Education Area'. Rapporteur Emil Boc presented the CoR draft opinion in the Council's Education Committee on 23 January at the invitation of the Croatian Presidency of the Council of the EU. The Croatian Presidency has included in its priorities balanced mobility of scientists and researchers, promoting high quality and lifelong learning and developing skills for jobs of the future.
In November 2018 the CoR published a study "Addressing brain drain: The local and regional dimension" which offers insight into ways in which regions could boost their attractiveness to retain or get back young, skilled people, presenting 30 successful initiatives implemented by local and regional authorities in 22 Member States.
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