Our Eye on the EU | June 2023

Filling the Gaps – is the EU really trying?

Youth rights: towards EU rules to ban unpaid internships

On 14 June the European Parliament plenary adopted a report calling on the European Commission to propose a directive on Quality Traineeships. MEPs, in particular, want minimum quality standards for traineeships in EU states, with rules on the duration, remuneration, and access to social protection. Most importantly, the directive should contain a clear ban on unpaid traineeships, and ensure a dignified compensation to cover the cost of basic living necessities according to the situation of each Member State. Finally, these rules should be legally binding for EU countries. 

The results of the votes find the approval of 404 MEPs in favour of the report, with 130 abstentions (mostly far right and conservative parties) and 78 against (far right and part of liberal parties). 

In a system in which traineeships, most of the time unpaid and low-quality, have become a forced and necessary step to take in order to have access to the job market, rules are needed to put an end to the exploitation of young people and to ensure equal rights across all EU countries. The European Youth Forum has launched a campaign asking for the ban of unpaid internships, claiming that these reinforce social inequalities and have a significant negative impact on young people’s mental and financial stability

It will be up to the European Commission now to propose a new directive on Quality Traineeships. 

EU’s eternal struggle: core vs periphery

Recent research by Eurostat shows that the rate of young people Not in Employment, Education and Training (NEETs) in the EU has lowered with respect to 2021, with the Netherlands, Sweden, Luxembourg and Denmark registering the best results. But what about Greece? After Romania and Italy, Greece holds the highest rate of NEETs between 15 and 29 years old (16%), even though it had one of the largest reductions of percentage points between 2021 and 2022, with a decrease of 11.4%.

Source dataset:  edat_lfse_20

The research also shows that there is a large difference between sexes, revealing that young NEET women are more likely to be excluded from the job market than young NEET men. 

Moreover, urbanisation has a significant impact on young Europeans, since the NEETs rate in 2022 was lower in cities (10%), and higher in towns, suburbs and rural areas (around 12%). Again, one of the biggest differences between cities and rural areas was registered in Bulgaria, Romania and Greece. 

The European Pillar for Social Rights, the EU policy that determines essential principles and rights for a fair labour market and social protection, set as an objective for 2030 to reduce the NEETs average in the EU to 9%. Even though the EU as a whole is performing better than in previous years, differences between the European core and periphery are still well rooted. 

Migration and Asylum – EU rejecting responsibility

On 7 and 8 June, EU ministers for Justice and Home Affairs met in Brussels to reach an agreement on two important migration files: the asylum and migration management regulation, to establish common rules on asylum procedures and standard rights for asylum seekers; and the asylum procedure regulation, which determines which member state is responsible for the examination of asylum applications and sets out new rules for the distribution of migrants across the EU. These two laws are therefore the core part of the new EU policy on migration and asylum, which will “change how asylum seekers are processed at the border and how they are relocated in Europe”. 

What’s in this deal? 1. Broadening the list of third countries that are considered safe, with each Member State defining its own list. This will make it easier to reject asylum seekers. 2. Creating a new “solidarity” mechanism, for which Member States can decide whether to accept asylum seekers or pay money to finance “projects” in non-EU countries to address the root causes of migration – that is, preventing people from moving, which is also practically impossible. 

Daniil ESDRAS (Minister for Migration and Asylum, Greece), during the Justice and Home Affairs Council, 8 June 2023. Credit: European Union.

These points constitute the basis of negotiations that will now start between the Council and the European Parliament, which will adopt together the final agreement, with moderation by the European Commission. 

The latter has recently offered Tunisia 100 million euros for border management, search and rescue operations and migrant returns to Tunisia, therefore giving clear indications that this country can be considered “safe”. Tunisia’s President Saied has dismantled the national Parliament, arrested political opposition and openly expressed racist positions on migrants. The EU knows it very well, but they have found the perfect solution: to continue criticising Tunisia while still working with them

Meanwhile, the European Commission is also preparing to propose a revision of the EU budget for 2024-2027. One of the requests is to add 15 billion euros to fund the migration and neighbourhood policy, which means paying neighboring countries to keep or take back unwanted migrants. 

Made in the very same days that one of the worst drownings of the last decade happened in EU waters, these decisions only demonstrate how Europeans, including both citizens and institutions, are now completely and comfortably numb to the ever growing number of deaths in our seas. 

Inside EU institutions 

Two occurrences happening behind EU institutions’ doors this month:

  1. Parliament: Orbán’s Hungary is going to hold the Council’s Presidency from June to December 2024 (if you don’t remember what this is, check this out). But one main concern is gaining ground this month: how could an EU country that is repeatedly breaching fundamental EU values, violating rule of law, and receiving sanctions for it, chair one of the EU’s main institutions and guide its legislative agenda for half a year? This is why the European Parliament is pushing EU leaders to block Hungary’s presidency, and did so also officially by voting a resolution by large majority. Now, EU leaders will need to find a solution to respond to the European Parliament’s call. 
  2. Council: EU Ministers for European Affairs have discussed how they want to change – or better, not change – the electoral law for the next elections in June 2024. Essentially, they have decided to retain their exclusive power to choose the European Commission’s President; to overwhelmingly reject the European Parliament’s proposal for the creation of transnational lists, that would allow citizens to choose MEP candidates across borders. In a few words, they openly opposed making EU elections more democratic, and chose to ignore every proposal coming from the European Parliament. 

We need a renewed European Citizens’ Initiative

On 13 June, MEPs voted on a report that assesses how the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) as an instrument has been functioning and if it is effective enough to allow citizens to have an impact on EU policy-making. Born in 2012, the ECI Regulation was revised in 2019, with the aim of making it more accessible and easier to use for organisers and supporters. 

On 8 June, Inter Alia was at the ECI Day in Brussels, an event gathering ECI organisers, activists and representatives of EU institutions. In this context, MEP Alin Mituta talked about the need to reform this instrument: more interaction between organisers and the Commission during the different stages is necessary for feedback and exchange, bureaucracy needs to be reduced, there has to be an actual follow-up on successful initiatives.

The report voted this month by the European Parliament introduces some recommendations, which however do not have any legal consequences and do not really push towards a structural change, especially regarding its impact. Nevertheless, it calls on the Commission to establish a proper dialogue with organisers, lower the minimum age for signing to 16, and provide financial support for valid ECIs which reach one million signatures as well as progressive financial support for ECIs that reach certain thresholds of signatures under one million.